NBC has given Mike Tirico yet another big assignment. Tirico has already covered the Olympics, the NFL, the British Open, the Ryder Cup and last fall’s Breeders’ Cup, and he’s now expanding his horse-racing portfolio further, taking over from Tom Hammond as host of NBC’s Triple Crown coverage. Tirico’s new role will start with the Kentucky Derby on Saturday, May 6. Here’s more from NBC on this transition, including Tirico’s thoughts on the move:
“NBC Sports is the home to the world’s premier horse racing, due in no small part to Tom’s passion, knowledge and relationships in the sport,” said Mark Lazarus, Chairman NBC Broadcasting and Sports. “We are pleased that Tom is going to remain part of the NBC family and that we have someone of Mike’s caliber to succeed him on horse racing.”
..Tirico, making his first-ever trip to a Triple Crown event, joins NBC Sports Group’s Triple Crown coverage beginning with the 2017 Kentucky Derby on May 6 on NBC, and will work the Preakness Stakes on May 20, and the Belmont Stakes on June 10.
“Tom’s professionalism, presence and passion for the sport enhanced Triple Crown viewing for so many of us over the years,” said Tirico, who made his TV horse racing debut alongside Hammond last fall on NBC’s coverage of the Breeders’ Cup World Championships. “He perfectly set the tone and in the process set the standard for this role. I’m honored to follow a legend and cherish the chance to work with our great team.”
As for Hammond, who started covering horse racing for NBC in 1984 and had been a vital part of a wide range of NBC Sports events, he’ll still have some involvement with the network. He’ll host a 30-minute My Kentucky Home special about how Kentucky became so important to U.S. thoroughbred racing on NBCSN next week (debuting Wednesday, May 3 at 12:30 a.m. ET, following Tuesday night’s St. Louis-Nashville NHL playoff game), and he’ll be back on the NBC Olympics team for the 2018 PyeongChang Games next February. He also said all the right things in NBC’s release:
“I had a great time putting together My Kentucky Home, and I hope viewers will understand why I think this is a special place,” Hammond said. “As I embark on a less demanding schedule at NBC, I can rest assured that the coverage of Thoroughbred racing is in good hands. That sport is very close to my heart, so I am pleased that Mike, a highly accomplished professional, will assume the role as leader of the superb NBC horse racing team. I wish them all the best going forward.”
It’s worth pondering how this happened and if it’s a good thing, though. Yes, Hammond is 72, so it’s possible he was looking to be less heavily involved, but from the outside, this reads more like NBC wanted to make this move and Hammond accepted it. And while there’s no question that Tirico’s a capable studio host and has a higher overall profile, many horse racing fans have long been fans of Hammond and what he’s brought to the role, so there may be some initial pushback. Having Tirico succeed Hammond makes sense in the long run, but was it really necessary to do it at this point? Opinions on that may vary. We’ll see how this works out.