Sports Media: Eddie Olczyk Has Proved He Can Pick The Ponies

For all of Eddie Olczyk’s work calling hockey games for the Blackhawks and NBC, you might be surprised to know that his first TV broadcasting job was in horse racing.

After winning the Stanley Cup with the Rangers in 1994, Olczyk, a longtime racing enthusiast, brought the Cup to the Meadowlands Racetrack. When the NHL owners locked out players that fall, track management asked Olczyk to be the in-house TV handicapper and appear on the race-recap show on SportsChannel New York for the three-month meet. It was good publicity for the track, and it turned into invaluable experience for Olczyk.

On Saturday, he’ll cover his fifth consecutive Kentucky Derby, serving as handicapper and reporter for NBC’s coverage from Churchill Downs in Louisville (11 a.m., NBC Sports Network; 1:30 p.m., Ch. 5; Derby post time, 5:46 p.m.). If he repeats his success from last year, when he hit the trifecta box with Audible, Good Magic and Justify, NBC figures to keep him around for a long time.

“My job is to stand up in front of 20-plus million people and tell them what I think,” Olczyk said. “Sometimes my horses run well, and sometimes my horse is sitting on the bottom, but that’s horse racing, that’s handicapping.

“There’s a great rush and a great thrill to be able to go up there and give an opinion and hopefully make people a little bit of money.”

Olczyk’s interest in the sport of kings dates to his childhood, when a hockey teammate and his father brought him to old Arlington Park. Olczyk fell in love with horses and was drawn to the handicapping aspect.

He showed his handicapping chops in his first national broadcast in 2014. On NBC Sports Network’s coverage of the Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series from Santa Anita Park, Olczyk hit on the long-shot winner in both stakes races: 14-1 Majestic Harbor in the Gold Cup and 10-1 Sheza Smoke Show in the Senorita Stakes.

“You need some luck, for sure,” Olczyk said, “but to be able to go 2-for-2 and not pick the favorites, it was quite the way to kick off my TV debut on NBC horse racing.”

So what does Olczyk look for when he’s handicapping a race?

“The one thing that I always look at is speed, or how is the race going to unfold in my mind,” he said. “So you look at all the histories of the horses, the past performances, and you try to get a gauge on where the speed is going to come from.

“Especially on Saturday, these horses are going to go a mile and a quarter, and the majority of these horses will never run this far again. And none of them have ever run this far before. So you start looking at breeding, you start looking at trips, you start looking at how the race is going to play out. And then you kind of go by the process of elimination.”

In the Derby, Olczyk is leaning toward Bob Baffert’s Roadster, who was out almost three months late last year after throat surgery to remove an obstruction that limited air flow. That didn’t stop Olczyk from putting a future wager on Roadster in March at 16-1. He said he also has a ticket for the colt at 24-1. Roadster is now at 5-1 (same as Improbable), behind 9-2 favorite Game Winner.

“With the track being fast – I want to make that caveat – I’m leaning towards Roadster, but that could change,” Olczyk said. “As we say in the business, stay tuned with track conditions. You gotta turn us on Saturday to see where I’m gonna lay my money.

“This Derby is absolutely wide open. I could not talk anybody off of eight or nine horses. I think it is that wide open where it’s going to be great value for the bettors, for the casual fan or the person that turns us on once or the person that turns on horse racing seven days a week like myself.”

Olczyk’s other sport of choice is also wide open. For the first time in NHL history, each division winner was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. So Olczyk won’t venture a guess as to who’ll reach the Stanley Cup Final. He’d rather predict horses than hockey.

“Considering I picked Winnipeg and Tampa at the start of the year,” he said, “I would rather tell you that Roadster is going to win the Derby and Long Range Toddy is going to finish second than who’s going to end up in the Stanley Cup Final.”

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