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Rain could mean a Derby under the lights


LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - The Kentucky Derby could be run under the
lights for the first time on Saturday.
Heavy rain is expected and if visibility is poor, Churchill
Downs will turn on its newly installed lights for the first time on
Derby Day.
"It could be blinkers off and lights on," said Bob Baffert,
trainer of the 3-1 favorite Lookin At Lucky and 12-1 shot
Conveyance.
Banks of lights now encircle the venerable track. They were
installed to accommodate night racing during the summer, and are
sometimes used for early morning training. They can employed at any
time - even for the Derby.
"It is an option that we do have," track spokesman Darren
Rogers said Friday.
There are no restrictions in the race conditions barring the use
of artificial light. The first 135 runnings of the classic for
3-year-olds were conducted in daylight. Churchill Downs hopes to
continue that tradition when the horses go to the post at 6:24 p.m.
EDT.
That might not be realistic. The National Weather Service
predicts showers and thunderstorms Saturday with periods of heavy
rain totaling 1 to 2 inches.
---
FINDING AN AUDIENCE: When NBC and Churchill Downs conducted
market research a few years ago to increase TV interest in the
Kentucky Derby, the results were startling.
Turns out, the sport of kings does well with women, too.
The Derby is one of three sporting events that draws more women
than men, said NBC Universal senior vice president of marketing
Mike McCarley. The Winter and Summer Olympics are the other two.
The research was a game-changer and allowed NBC, which will
televise Saturday's Run for the Roses for the 10th straight year,
to think outside the box.
Rather than confine promotions for the Derby to weekend
afternoons during other sporting events, NBC spreads the love
across the other networks it owns.
The Kentucky Oaks, the filly version of the Kentucky Derby, is
broadcast on Bravo, which skews heavily toward female viewers.
There are Derby segments on "The Today Show" in the run-up to the
race focusing on everything from fashion to how to create the
perfect mint julep.
"Women are watching the Derby more for the spectacle than the
sporting event," McCarley said. "There's a balance you have to
strike for the different people that you're watching."
The formula appears to be working. Viewership is up 27 percent
since 2001. The 9.8 rating for Mine That Bird's upset last year was
the highest-rated Derby since 1992.
To build on that success, Churchill Downs helped produce a
series of one-hour telecasts on Saturdays this spring called "Road
to the Derby," featuring the major prep races. They hope the
investment pays off.
"We're lucky, men and women love horse racing and love the
Derby," track president Kevin Flanery said.
There's a chance viewers won't have to hop from network to
network next year to follow the Triple Crown. NBC broadcasts the
Derby and the Preakness, while ESPN holds the rights to the
Belmont. The TV contracts expire this year. McCarley said having
the entire Triple Crown on one network would help sustain interest
in the series even in years when there isn't a Triple Crown
candidate.
"I think that's a real growth opportunity for the sport," he
said.
---
PINK OUT: No one got into the spirit of Friday's "Pink Out"
event more than Col. Sanders of KFC fame.
In order to help raise awareness and funds for breast cancer
research, Churchill Downs officials were promoting a "Susan G.
Komen Passionately Pink for the Cure" day at the track in
conjunction with the running of the Kentucky Oaks, the premier race
for fillies. Fans were asked to wear something pink, or one of the
organization's trademark pink ribbons.
Bob Thompson, who portrays Col. Sanders and serves as a
spokesman for the restaurant chain, wore a double-breasted pink
linen suit and greeted fans on the backstretch Friday. It was his
fifth trip to the Derby. Asked which horse he was picking for
Saturday's Kentucky Derby, he laughed.
"Nobody's told me, so I won't know until it's over who I should
have bet."
---
AP Sports Columnist Jim Litke and AP Sports Writer Will Graves
contributed to this report.


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