NBC whiz Steve Kornacki becomes gambling expert for Preakness: 'Like looking at election returns'

·3 min read

BALTIMORE – Underneath the Pimlico Race Course grandstand, a man in his signature khakis, button-down shirt and tie is breaking down numbers.

The task remains mostly the same for NBC’s Steve Kornacki. But a new role will have him spending more time on the network’s marquee sports properties, including Sunday Night Football and Triple Crown horse racing.

“I’d be watching anyway,” Kornacki told USA TODAY Sports after a TV appearance prior to the 146th Preakness Stakes. “I watch it every year. to actually see how it’s done, work with these guys – pretty cool.”

In November, after Kornacki rose to social media fame as the presidential election took days to be called, the MSNBC political analyst received a call from the NBC Sports bosses for a shot on “Football Night in America.”

This summer, he’ll be involved in Olympic coverage. He’s not exactly sure how that will look yet, but a few ideas are being fleshed out.

Steve Kornacki breaks down the AFC playoff picture.
Steve Kornacki breaks down the AFC playoff picture.

At the track, Kornacki’s angle is gambling. In one segment Saturday, he listed longshot horses that hadn’t raced at the Kentucky Derby prior to the Preakness that placed in the top three or four to be factors in trifectas or superfectas.

Two Saturdays ago, he watched noted high-roller Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale place part of his $2.4 million Kentucky Derby bet in a $100,000 cash installment at a Churchill Downs betting window.

In that moment, it became his job to explain how that affected the odds of other horses.

“Then you start looking at the numbers behind it,” Kornacki said, “and that was what I was able to try and do on the air, is like, ‘OK, this is actually affecting the value (the viewers) are going to get out of the race.’”

Gambling is inherent to horse racing, but with the immersion and legalization of betting in other sports, it’s an angle Kornacki could analyze during NBC telecasts, although he’s unsure that will be prevalent outside of the ponies.

Betting trends can be useful for determining the mood of the fans or the public, Kornacki said. For example, logic would dictate Medina Spirit as the betting favorite for the Preakness. But Midnight Bourbon was the favorite – perhaps a sign the public was pulling away from Medina Spirit and Concert Tour, both Bob Baffert-trained colts.

“It’s sort of like looking at election returns,” he said. “How does the public feel? How do the fans feel about a game? Well, where did they put their money?”

Along with NBC hockey and horse racing analyst Eddie Olcyzk – “he’s like a scientist,” Kornacki said – the duo have teamed up this spring for the wagering portion of the broadcasts. Kornacki plays his bets more by gut, a far cry from the data-driven election whiz Americans saw on their televisions.

Pimlico reported a record handle of $112,504,509 over the 14 races on Preakness Saturday. The previous record was $99,852,693 in 2019.

And even though COVID-19 restrictions limited capacity to 10,000 spectators in the grandstand, Kornacki can still feel the energy, which he feeds off of and actually prefers compared to his usual studio. Fans can walk right up to his and Olczyk's set to watch, unlike the serene set NBC constructed for other parts of its broadcast team by the stables.

“Two minutes before the race, everyone is lining up at the windows, there’s a buzz,” he said. “It’s a fun place to be.”

Follow Chris Bumbaca on Twitter @BOOMbaca.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Preakness 2021: NBC's Steve Kornacki joins horse racing broadcast