Updated on 11/11/2011 11:23AM

Six Kentucky Derby prep races to be shown on NBC networks in 2012


Six prep races for the Kentucky Derby, including the Wood Memorial, Santa Anita Derby, and Blue Grass Stakes, will be televised live on the NBC family of networks next year as part of an agreement between NBC, racetracks, and the Jockey Club, according to a joint announcement from the companies on Tuesday.

The races will be broadcast in four live telecasts running on consecutive Saturdays in the spring, from March 24 to April 14, with the broadcasts jumping between Versus (which will be renamed the NBC Sports Network as of Jan. 2), CNBC, and NBC. The Jockey Club is co-funding the production of the broadcasts as part of a $10 million, five-year initiative to broaden the public profile of racing, which was a recommendation of a marketing report commissioned by the Jockey Club earlier this year and prepared by McKinsey and Company.

Bob Curran, a spokesman for the Jockey Club, said that the deal with NBC is for one year, with an additional option for one year held by NBC.

"We hope it is the beginning of a longer-term relationship," Curran said.

The series will start with a live broadcast on Versus of the March 24 Vinery Stakes at Turfway Park in northern Kentucky. The March 31 Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park will be the feature of the following broadcast, also on Versus, followed by a live broadcast on NBC of the April 7 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct and the Santa Anita Derby at Santa Anita Park. The Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland and the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park will anchor the final broadcast on April 14, this time on CNBC.

The series will fill a hole that has deepened over the last five years as racing has increasingly begun to be played on the margins of the sports world. Although major Triple Crown preps were once a staple of spring television programming, the races are now rarely broadcast on major networks, and many are broadcast live by the two television networks that are dedicated to racing, TVG and HRTV, which have relatively limited distribution compared with NBC or ESPN.

The series will also serve to promote NBC's coverage of the three Triple Crown races, which remain the most widely watched races in the United States. In a deal reached earlier this year, NBC secured the television rights to the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes through 2015, with much of the prerace coverage appearing on Versus.