ESPN Primed for Two Days’ Worth of Riches at Breeders’ Cup

ESPN has pulled out all the stops for the richest two days in American horse racing, delivering a total of nearly nine hours of live Breeders’ Cup World Championships coverage from hallowed Churchill Downs on Friday and Saturday. ESPN will present 15 races’ worth a combined $26 million across a variety of platforms, including ABC, ESPN, ESPN2, and ESPN3.com.

“I would put what we do for the Breeders’ Cup on par with anything else that is done in sports [television] today,” says ESPN VP of Remote Production Mike McQuade. “We are acutely aware of just how long we are on the air: about nine hours with just 28 minutes’ worth of action. But we have a formula that allows us to keep the energy up and the storylines going from the moment the first horses get on the track to the time the last horses cross the line.”

Churchill Downs Covered From Pole to Pole
ESPN has rolled NEP’s ND4 mobile unit into Louisville, KY, for its Breeders’ Cup coverage, which will feature a total of 40 cameras, including three extreme-slo-mo camera systems, five robotic POV cameras, a super crane at the back chute, several cameras for the gate loads, and a plane for aerial coverage of Churchill Downs.

Last year, ESPN used two extreme-slo-mos on the finish line for the first time, having used only shutter cameras previously. The two finish-line extreme-slo-mos return this year, joined by a third positioned at the final turn.

“The final turn is typically where a jockey will make his move, with the horse getting into position to win the race,” says McQuade. “We are hoping to see some of the strategy that goes on there with the [extreme-slo-mo]. In addition, at this point, extreme-slo-mo is now standard for almost every event, and the viewer expects to see it.”

Five POV cameras will highlight the action at the betting windows, race announcers booth, stewards room, and inside the rail of the turf course.

“We will use these for a variety of [needs],” says McQuade. “We may turn back the tape of the announcer calling a close finish and show that later on in the show. We also have a POV in the stewards room, where they may be revealing the outcome of the race if there is an inquiry or an issue with the result. That takes viewers inside to see what decisions they’re making.”

One camera that will not be on hand, however, is the jockey-mounted unit that ESPN debuted during last year’s Breeders’ Cup. The 4-oz. digital camera, attached to a jockey’s helmet, showed promising results in 2010 (it was not an RF cam used for live video but rather captured footage for post-race highlights packages), but ESPN was unable to bring it back this year.

“We would have liked to bring back jockey-cam,” says McQuade, “but the folks at the Breeders’ Cup have said they would prefer that we didn’t.”

One of ESPN’s most valuable tools at Churchill Downs this year will be a Super Crane behind the track’s back chute. Last year, the network deployed a Strada Crane at this position, but McQuade & company felt that the Super Crane offered “much more flexibility.”

ESPN will once again have about a dozen on-air talents at the track, including host Joe Tessitore, analysts Randy Moss and Jerry Bailey, handicappers Kenny Mayne and Hank Goldberg, international expert Nick Luck, narrator/historian Bill Nack, race caller Trevor Denman, and reporters Jeannine Edwards, Jay Privman, and Caton Bredar (on horseback).

Under the Bright Lights
This swell of coverage will climax under the bright lights at Churchill Downs with the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic on Friday night and Breeders’ Cup Classic on Saturday night.

“In every phase of our broadcast starting on Friday, we will be building everyone toward the crescendo of the day, which is [the Classic],” says McQuade. “Once you see the sport under the lights, it is a completely different experience. We don’t feel that we have to do much except present the race and the track. The pictures will tell the story, and we just need to make sure the cameras are in the right spots to capture that story.”

Beyond Borders and Your TV Set
In addition to the linear broadcast, ESPN3.com will simulcast all of the ESPN and ESPN2 windows (Saturday 3:30-7:15 p.m. ET and Friday 4-8 p.m. ET, respectively) but not the Saturday ABC window (2-3:30 p.m.).

Meanwhile, ESPN.com will offer video recaps, jockey blogs, and “Cover It Live” with handicapper Terry Turrell.

ESPN’s work at Churchill is much more than a stateside affair. Races will be distributed via ESPN International networks in Latin America, the Caribbean, Brazil, Australia, New Zealand, Africa, and the Middle East and on ESPN’s HD networks in Australia, Brazil, and Latin America. In addition, the Breeders’ Cup will be streamed live on ESPN broadband platforms in Latin America, New Zealand, and Australia.

The 28th Breeders’ Cup World Championships begin Friday Nov. 4, at 4 p.m. ET on ESPN2 and ESPN3.com.