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ABC, led by commentator Jim McKay, has televised the Derby since 1975 and covered all three races since 1987. The network has a year left on its contract.NBC reportedly paid $51.5 million for the Triple Crown package, with ABC bidding $35 million. CBS, which provided the first national telecast of the Derby in 1952 and added the Preakness and Belmont in 1960, offered a reported $28 million. "When we went out to solicit bids and interest, we did it with a view to promoting racing," said Thomas Meeker, president of Triple Crown Productions. "NBC is the network of opportunity for us to promote our sport." That's because the network already has the NBA and regularly programmed playoff games opposite ABC's telecasts of the Triple Crown races. Now, instead of providing alternative programming, the NBA playoff games can provide an attractive lead-in for the races and perhaps deliver a younger audience, as well. "Clearly, the NBA has posed a problem for thoroughbred racing," Meeker said. "Not having that competition will enhance our ability to attract new viewers to our sport." Dick Ebersol, chairman of the network's sports division, said with the NBA as a lead-in instead of competition, Triple Crown ratings could increase 15-20 percent. Ebersol said NBC also will cover the prep races leading to the Kentucky Derby, either on its cable channels or other cable systems. The network also will televise the Breeders' Cup through 2001. "It offers all kinds of packaging possibilities," Ebersol said.