NBC Welcomes Home Breeders Cup With Triple-Crown Feel, New Gyro-Stabilized Camera

NBC Sports Group will celebrate a horseracing homecoming at Santa Anita Park outside Los Angeles this weekend when the Breeders Cup returns to the Peacock network after a six-year absence. The NBC Sports team, which previously carried every Breeders Cup since its debut in 1984, will produce 8½ hours of coverage Friday and Saturday on NBC Sports Network and a one-hour Breeders Cup Classic telecast on NBC Saturday, which will air in primetime for the first time.

“I think, from a production philosophy, as someone who has covered seven Olympic games, this is the Olympics of horseracing,” says producer Rob Hyland. “And the production philosophy over the course of the two days is really to get to know the stories of this year’s world championships. And I think we have a pretty good plan in place with a number of features we’ll be [presenting] over the 9½ hours of coverage.”

Catering to Both Sides of the Spectrum
The network has opened its wallet in recent years to become the home of American horseracing, and the Breeders Cup joins the Triple Crown as a centerpiece of that lineup. Covering more high-level horseracing than at any other network, Hyland and his team have had plenty of opportunity to cultivate a production model that revolves around storytelling and keeping the viewers —aficionado and novice alike — well informed.

“The overall production, being that it’s in primetime, is not going to waver very much from how we cover the Triple Crown,” says Hyland. “It’s going to be as welcoming to the novice viewer as possible. We know the horseracing fans will be watching anyway, and our production philosophy, regardless of what time it airs, will [be to] welcome the broadest audience possible.”

A New Camera for an Old Favorite
NBC Sports Group has rolled out NEP’s ND4 A, B, and C unit to serve as home base at Santa Anita. In addition, the network will deploy approximately 30 cameras throughout the track, including several super-slo-mo and ultra-slo-mo cameras. The highlight will be a gyro-stabilized camera in an SUV driving along and inner track alongside the horses, a first for NBC.

The camera has been a staple of horseracing coverage in Europe and Dubai for years, but it has been a tough sell on U.S. tracks, where there is rarely an area for a car to drive around the track.

“In Santa Anita, it’s a unique track in that, inside of the turf track, there is an [inner] track that cars can drive on. [The gyro-stabilized camera] is going to provide shots of the horses on the backstretch and at the speed they are traveling. You are basically going onboard with the horses.”

Hyland expects that the camera will be used on only a handful of occasions during live races but will serve as a valuable replay tool for post-race analysis.

“It’s more for a great replay, and it goes around the entire track,” he says. “So, as the horses are approaching the wire, you are going to have unbelievable shots with the grandstand in the background. We are really excited about showcasing this camera.”

Magic Hour on the Track
One of the unique production challenges at this year’s Breeders Cup will be the primetime slot, which may have programming execs salivating but creates a potential for loss of sunlight should the Classic be delayed.

“It’s going to present a totally different look and feel in terms of the setting,” says Hyland. “First of all, you’re at one of the most beautiful racetracks in America in Santa Anita. Set against the backdrop of the San Gabriel mountains, with the sun cascading down, it’s going to be pretty darn dramatic.

“Now, if the race were delayed significantly,” he continues, “would we be in jeopardy of losing light? It would be a very, very significant delay for that to happen. But, from a setting standpoint, those sorts of orange tones that present themselves on the mountains in the distance are going to be pretty spectacular, and I’m looking forward to having the opportunity to do a race in this unique setting.”

Peacock Pushes Graphics
NBC has put a renewed emphasis on the graphics and horse-tracking elements in its horseracing coverage, and the Breeders Cup will carry on that newly instilled tradition, incorporating several live in-race elements (many of them provided by SMT). These are likely to include a live leaderboard of the top six horses, a virtual thumbnail graphic showing the horses’ location on the track, and a virtual distance-to-the-finish indicator down the backstretch.

“It’s going to look very similar to a Triple Crown telecast at NBC,” says Hyland. “So you’ll see a lot of the same graphic enhancements, virtual enhancements that we’ve done in our Triple Crown coverage.”

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