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NBC to broadcast inaugural virtual Kentucky Derby

The 2019 Kentucky Derby (Credit: Getty Images)

Churchill Downs, the organizers of the Kentucky Derby, has announced it will conduct a virtual running of the iconic horse racing event on May 2.

The Kentucky Derby was due to be staged on its traditional date, the first Saturday in May, this year before it was postponed until September due to the global Covid-19 pandemic. However, Churchill Downs is still looking to recognize Derby Day with a series of online events to help raise $2m for coronavirus relief efforts.

At the center of the celebrations is the officially-titled  “Kentucky Derby: Triple Crown Showdown”, which will feature 13 former Triple Crown winners competing in a computer-simulated race. Created by gaming technology company Inspired Entertainment, the virtual race will use data algorithms, including historical handicapping information about each horse, to determine the probability of their potential finishing positions.

The race will be broadcast on the main NBC network as part of a special Kentucky Derby-themed program, which will also feature the 2015 Kentucky Derby, the race which kicked off American Pharaoh’s historic Triple Crown run that year. NBC’s broadcast will also include interviews with jockeys, owners and others involved with the sport.

Fans who select the winning horse will be entered into a contest to  win a Kentucky Derby VIP Experience in September.

“For many fans around the country, the first Saturday in May has become a part of their family’s yearly traditions,” said Kevin Flanery, president of Churchill Downs Racetrack. “While we eagerly look forward to the 146th Kentucky Derby this year on the first Saturday in September, we will celebrate the annual excitement of our traditional date with our fans and community by offering ways for us to join together for a great cause. Our fans will be captivated by the realistic view of the virtual race and we can debate, as we do each year, our favorite to win.”

In place of this year’s Grand National in England early this month, British broadcaster ITV aired a virtual version of the race, which was watched by a peak of 4.8 million people.