Year after flip flop, NBC’s Eddie Olczyk hopes he feels better about his Kentucky Derby pick

Last year at the Kentucky Derby, Eddie Olczyk did what every horse racing fan and handicapper has done at one point — he changed his pick and ended up regretting it.

The difference, though, is that Olczyk flipped with nearly 15 million people watching.

Leading up to the Run for the Roses, Olczyk told friends and fans whom he ran into after calling NHL games that he liked Mage. However, when it came time for the final picks segment on NBC’s coverage, Olczyk went with Verifying.

Mage won, while Verifying finished a distant 16th in the 18-horse field.

“Sometimes you change and you win, and sometimes you lose,” Olczyk said during a telephone interview. “But last year probably was the most dejected that I’ve ever been walking out of the Kentucky Derby. Win or lose, you walk out of there feeling good about yourself and the experience because there’s nothing like it. It still burns, and it probably will for a long time.”

Olczyk was reminded again last week when he was in Las Vegas for the Stanley Cup playoffs when a fan thanked him for the Mage pick. If there was a time to feel good about at least winning someone else money and bad about personal misfortune, that was it.

Olczyk, though, has been right more often when it comes to his picks. The best example was the 2018 Derby when the former hockey player recommended a trifecta of Justify, Good Magic and Audible, which ended up paying $141.40 for a $1 bet.

Olczyk — a part of NBC’s Kentucky Derby coverage since 2015 — remains a part of the network’s horse racing coverage even though it no longer carries the NHL. This is his third season doing hockey for Turner Sports, but it gives him a couple of days during the NHL playoffs to cross over and return to the track.

“The landscape has changed, but I’m lucky that TNT and NBC were able to come to an agreement, and that NBC still wants me part of the coverage,” he said. “Everyone around the league this time of year wants to talk Derby, and everyone want the Derby wants to talk hockey. I guess I’m the conduit that pleases both sides at this time of year.”

Olczyk had been lobbying his NBC bosses for a couple of years to be part of the horse racing coverage. It wasn’t until he sat down to talk to analyst Randy Moss during the 2014 Sochi Olympics that things started to move forward. Olczyk worked some of the Breeders’ Cup challenge series races in 2014 and hit on a pair of longshots.

“I have been told by many people going back before Edzo started doing horse racing for NBC, you’ve got to meet this guy. This guy is a huge horse racing guy, big horse racing fan. At some point, you need to meet him,” Moss said during an NBC conference call earlier this week. “I was talked by friends of mine into going to one of the hockey games for the Olympics. … After the first period, Eddie comes up and introduces himself and sits down next to me. The guys I was with, I told them I know nothing about hockey, and they were aghast that Eddie would come up and sit down with me.

“All we talked about was horses, not hockey. After the second period, he came back up and sat down again, and all we talked about was horses and not hockey. It was obvious at that point that Eddie was not just a hockey guy. He knew a lot about horse racing, very knowledgeable about horse racing.”

Olczyk’s first experience with handicapping on television wasn’t NBC. During an NHL lockout, he was the in-house simulcast handicapper at New Jersey’s Meadowlands racetrack in the fall of 1994.

Olczyk was paired with the late Bob Neumeier for the first two years. Neumeier, coincidentally, called Boston Bruins games on radio for five seasons in the late 1990s.

It has been Olczyk, Matt Bernier and Steve Kornacki for the past couple of years.

“Bob was a legend. I’m inspired because I watched him for so many years. I miss him, especially this time of the year,” Olczyk said. “To be able to have camaraderie with Matt, have some fun, and teach the game has been great. Steve has great energy. When we’re up there, he’s a rock star. He’s brought a lot to the show. I think we all bring different things in, and it’s been great for horse racing.”

“Me and Matt coming up different ways and Steve having experience in the political world who is great with numbers and stats. I think people enjoy the camaraderie and disagreements.”


AP horse racing:

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