NBC’s Mike Tirico Previews the 143rd Kentucky Derby: ‘The Spectacle of the Entire Week Has Become More Well-Known’

Sports - Santa Anita Derby Day
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Victor Espinoza at Santa Anita Park on April 8, 2017 in Arcadia, California

It’s billed as “The Fastest Two Minutes in Sports,” and you won’t find more tradition, pageantry, excitement or money packed into a smaller time frame than the Kentucky Derby. The 143rd running takes place on May 6, at Churchill Downs in Louisville for the first leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown, consisting of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes (May 20) and Belmont Stakes (June 10). Top horses likely to be in the starting gate at the Run for the Roses include Girvin, Classic Empire, Gormley (pictured with jockey Victor Espinoza) and Irap.

This year’s Derby is special for NBC’s Mike Tirico—it’s the first one he’ll host and the first he’ll get to see in person. “From the fashion to the singing of ‘My Old Kentucky Home’ to drinking mint juleps, there is nothing like Derby Day in American sports,” Tirico says. “There is a part of me that wishes I could experience it all as a fan, but I can’t beat having the best seat in the house to take in all the traditions during my maiden Derby.”

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Those traditions, the party atmosphere and celebrities’ unusual fashions attract many viewers who might not regularly watch sports, which is why NBC devotes nearly five hours of coverage to Derby day.

“The spectacle of the entire week has become more well known to U.S. fans,” Tirico says. “The growth of Derby week, plus American Pharoah’s 2015 Triple Crown, seems to have connected more people with the Derby.”

From a sports-viewership perspective, Tirico notes that the Derby audience is roughly a 50-50 male-female split. “That is rare for a major sporting event and a ratio matched only by the Olympics,” the broadcaster says, “so the appeal of the Derby connects so many to the sport.”

143rd Kentucky Derby, Saturday, May 6, 2:30/1:30c, NBC