Sunday, March 15, 2009

ESPN cuts Oaks from Derby week coverage


ESPN has drastically reduced its racing schedule for the week leading up to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (G1), including the elimination of a live Kentucky Oaks (G1) broadcast.

The network’s only live coverage will be five hours on Kentucky Derby day prior to the NBC broadcast that will feature the race.

Last year, ESPN had a total of 11 live hours during Derby week, including an hour for the post-position draw on Wednesday and three hours on Oaks day on Friday.

“As I understand it, they’ve just decided to pull back a bit on the racing coverage,” said John Asher, vice president of communications for Churchill Downs. “Regrettably, the Oaks day coverage will not be there this year. We know it’s an unusual landscape out there and people are having to make tough decisions, and this is one that we hate to see, but let’s hope it’s a one-year respite.”

Plans for the Derby post-position draw have not been finalized. Asher said the format would probably not change.

ESPN spokesman Mark Mandel said the Derby day schedule would consist of "Today at the Kentucky Derby" from noon to 3 p.m. EDT and "Kentucky Derby Special" from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., which will include the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic Stakes (G1), Humana Distaff Stakes (G1), Churchill Downs Stakes (G2), Eight Belles Stakes (G3), and Churchill Downs Turf Mile Stakes (G3).

Last year, the network had six hours of live coverage on Derby day.

The owners of the Triple Crown host racetracks—Churchill Downs Inc., the Maryland Jockey Club, and New York Racing Association—negotiate ESPN’s live coverage throughout the series, in conjunction with the television production company Winnercomm.

Churchill does have a new relationship with the Bravo network that will include an hour of live coverage during Oaks day as part of events tied in with Susan G. Komen for the Cure to raise funds for breast cancer research and awareness. Bravo is part of the NBC family.

Adam Freifeld, director of communications for NBC Sports, said Bravo would air the Oaks live during the hour.

Television stations WAVE-3 in Louisville and WLEX-18 in Lexington carry the Oaks in their markets.

The card also will air on HRTV, which is partially owned by Churchill Downs Inc.