Kentucky Derby at NBC for the ages

The best seat in the house was… at 2,500 feet?

The 148th Kentucky Derby was one of all time, but you’d never know it without computerized smart graphics and the SkyCam that actually was in the sky.

NBC was gift-wrapped with a race last Saturday that featured an unidentified long-shot 80-to-1, Rich Strike, that shot out from the back of the pack along the house to outsmart two finalists. The transformation was so sudden that stellar race announcer Larry Colmus didn’t see it (or talk about it) at first. But the NBC production truck knew exactly what to do with their surprise gift: They looked up at the sky.

Annually, the network publishes the Winged Vision to film aerial footage of Derby, not to mention the weekly Sunday Night Football TV broadcast in the fall/winter. Typically, the pilots present stunning scenes over their heads and give Derby and Sunday Night NFL Director Drew Isokoff a look all over the sky just in case the race needs a panoramic perspective.

On Saturday, though, the Cessna 206H’s Winged Vison did more than steal the show; He has stolen the hearts of 36 million (and more) on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, and NBC’s YouTube channel.

As Rich Strike’s comeback began from behind the hind limbs of a dozen 2,000-pound animals, the usual low-angle racing camera sights were ill-equipped to capture the scale of the moment. “You wouldn’t see it from your regular home-extending finish line camera,” Isokoff told SportTechie. “You’ll see [Rich Strike] He might have invented a horse or two, but the angle is too flat and the movement too intense. ”

Fortunately, in the last frantic blows of the race, Colmus saw enough to howl, “Rich Strike Coming From Inside! Oh my goodness, the longest shot ever won the Kentucky Derby! “But, while viewers at home wondered if they were hallucinating, Esocoff asked producer Lindsay Schanzer if it was possible to capture the aerial view and prepare to follow the ad.

Not only was it ready, it was gold.

If Rich Strike’s journey to the finish line was baffling, pilot Joel Martin’s flight on a Cessna 206H from a Winged Vison was downright bizarre. According to company founder, Hall of Famer broadcaster Bob Mikkelson, Martin and cameraman Jeff Vaughn took off from Louisville Airport that day restricted to flying at least 2,500 feet over Churchill Downs.

It was a disability they had been dealing with forever. Because of the airport’s proximity to the racetrack, a slowly circling Cessna around Churchill Downs can disrupt or hamper landing patterns. That’s why the airport issued temporary restrictions on flights, placing small planes with banners at 1,500 feet, helicopters at 2,000 feet, and Winged Vision at 2,500 feet.

“So it was uuuup There it is,” Mickelson told SportTechie. “We have tried to change that for years. At least they let us down in the race itself for two minutes. But no luck.”

Fortunately, new aerial camera technology has emerged significantly over the past three years, such as fiber slip rings that stabilize the pivot and eliminate what Michelson calls “noise” in the image. Sony, in 2019, also introduced the original P50 camera, which Vaughn held like a baby in his lap before the Cessna took off on Saturday. This was no ordinary SkyCam. According to Michaelson, the cameraSecured with a gyro-stabilized gimbal (GSS)It had a ’40 to 1 magnification with twice the extender. So you can increase the magnification up to 90 degrees.’

In other words, he said, they could shoot clearly from 7,000 feet if they had to. Well, until you need oxygen, I suppose, Mickelson said.

GSS gimbal secures the camera that ended up showing the world the Rich Strike.

So Martin and Vaughn were perfectly positioned to film the race, hovering over the starting gate…until human (or animal) nature stepped in.

One of the horses was in and out, in and out, and then back to the starting gate, prompting pilot Martin to start his journey around the track prematurely. That left Fogg shooting the final start to the race from a Cessna literally tailgating through the plane’s exhaust system. Not perfect.

“Now you’re playing a game, oh my God, what do I do now? Shall I go back and start doing the orbits? It’s just one of those unfortunate things that happens. ”

so it was uuuup there. We’ve been trying to change that for years. At least let us down in the race itself for two minutes. But no luck.

– Winged Vision founder Bob Mickelson

Quickly and gently, Martin – who had already crossed the track – chose to do a 180-degree turn so he could re-engage the horses as they spun into the first turn. “You’re just sitting there throwing the entire throttle just to keep up with it,” Mickelson said. “It’s like the old row of skaters, the last to try to catch up at last.”

The bottom line is Cessna caught the race and was in a prime position when Rich Strike – who entered the Derby on Friday only after a last horse scratched an ethereal road – kicked off his Moses moment across the metaphorical Red Sea.

“It was a slightly different flight profile than we normally had for racing,” Mickelson said of pilot Martin. ‘But, as you saw, he was there when he should have been.’

Broadcast Hall of Famer Bob Mickelson founded Winged Vision in the 1980s.

Broadcast Hall of Famer Bob Mickelson founded Winged Vision in the 1980s.

Once Rich Strike crosses the finish line, a The whole other race Started: The race for instant replay. Aerial photographer Vaughn had a deep insight into the comeback, before passing the baton to a company called Sports Media Technology (SMT).

Similar to playing “Where’s Waldo,” the SMT personnel had to not only decipher Rich Strike’s flight from 2,500 feet above it using computerized tracking, but create arrows or pointers that would allow the audience to follow the brilliant finish of Rich Strike and Epicenter running in the foreground. Collapse.

“Every year you get a number of different technological developments and every year one or two of them might happen

NBC's Derby Television Director Drew Esocoff

NBC’s Derby Television Director Drew Esocoff

“If you go back in time to the last 30 or 40 years, the yellow streak was in football, the clock and streak was, Skycam was in football, these are things now if you had to watch an event you expected them to be in the place and they didn’t,” Isokov said. Well, in the case of the replay we’re talking about here, the pointers, plus the awesome camera work and the massive work done by the pilot in a perfect setting, those pointers made a difference.

Either way, due to the camera’s mating with the rifle, gimbal, graphics and computer technology, NBC was able to air the aerial replay within minutes of the race. Social media swooped in from there, and the network’s top view went viral. Online views of the standard TV broadcast were in the thousands, but the top replay numbers were at 36 million by Monday.

This replay was well over an 80-to-1 shot. If the weather had been windy, it wouldn’t have happened – the flight would have been halted. If it was 2015, it probably wouldn’t have happened – the technology was still perfect. If the pilot hadn’t taken a quick turn, he wouldn’t have happened – he would have been in North Carolina.

“That’s what we had,” Isokoff said, “An 80-to-1 horse under a rider ride no one’s ever heard of chasing down two favorites for the last 100 yards or whatever. And a plane in the absolute perfect place to see it. And in horse racing, the replay looks from above when the action is like that…it’s just magic. ”

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