Breeders’ Cup Sound Heads for the Winners Circle

This year’s Breeders’ Cup races (Oct. 31 and Nov. 1 at Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, CA) marks the 10-year media-rights–partnership extension that will keep the Breeders’ Cup on NBC and NBCSN through 2025. It also marks a larger audio complement for the iconic race.

A1 Florian Brown, who mixed the races on ESPN 2009-11, will be working from the newly mated NEP ND4/Double Eagle production unit that was created for NBC’s golf coverage and provides 76-input Calrec Alpha consoles for both main mix and submix.

“Essentially, this takes the main-mix compartment from ND3 and makes it the submix console, connected by MADI between the trailers,” says Brown, who will be working the Breeders’ Cup races with submixer Lawrence Cirillo and comms operator Chris Acker.

There will be a lot to mix: eight wireless roving reporters with handheld microphones covering the track grounds; six handheld cameras (including one Steadicam), all with microphones attached; and one remotely controlled gyro-cam and microphone mounted on a Range Rover SUV. That’s in addition to the dozens of shotgun mics lining the track; they are attached to the inside rail to allow them to be manually reoriented to cover the outside main dirt track or the inside turf course, which will be used at least once over the two-day race. Not surprisingly, the audio crew is large, with 14 in the contingent.

(Brown cautions all of them to move slowly around the horses, which are easily spooked. In fact, he was relieved to see that the cables on the truck were mostly green, which blend into the track and turf better than the usual black wires. When they’re wiggled on the ground during deployment, he points out, they look a lot like snakes, a horse’s natural enemy. “We even have to be careful about the shadows cast on the track by the crowd microphones across the front stretch,” he adds.)

The additional audio signal is being transported differently this year, using a Riedel Rocknet 300 fiber transport system and a 16×16 MADI router pulling audio in from six field boxes located across the track. These are rented from Clair Global and incorporate Studio Technologies’ Model 42 and Model 47 interfaces, providing PL and IFB power.

“These tracks are a mile long, and having a reliable fiber network and a fluid box really streamlines the transport and the workflow, so shipping mics and IFB sources becomes easier,” says Brown. “We can take an IP [address] and map it to all six boxes.”

Wired Riders
Jockeys will be asked to wear microphones; the decision to do so is theirs to make. Brown hopes to get one or two to agree, although that won‘t be known till the day of the race. The importance of that mic placement can’t be overstated, he says: “The audio it can pull in is fantastic.”

The microphone — usually either a Sennheiser MKE 2 or Sony ECM 77 — is placed at belt height on the side and back of the jockey, pointed to the rear and picking up the sound of the following horses and riders as well as the sounds of the rider’s whip.

Brown will use the dozen opening-card races to burnish the EQ and dynamics of the mix for the Cup race itself, which will pull in the extensively miked crowd.

But the focus remains on the race itself, with strategically placed stereo shotgun mics on the fourth and first turns framing the final stretch of the 1.24-mile race as the horses near the finish line, the race-caller’s voice growing in intensity as the ambient and effects sounds swell.

“The whole thing comes down to getting that 1½ minutes right,” says Brown.

NBC Sports Group’s coverage of the 31st Breeders’ Cup begins Friday from Santa Anita Park with the live telecast on NBCSN at 5-8 p.m. ET, and coverage continues on Saturday at 3:30-8 p.m. on NBCSN and 8-9 p.m. on NBC.