With Belmont Stakes ratings sagging, ABC/ESPN executives are counting on Big Brown to pull "a triple.” Not win the first Triple Crown since 1978, but triple the ratings.
"We'd love to triple what we've had the last couple of years,” said Len DeLuca, ESPN senior vice president. "It's our third year with the Belmont on ABC. In the last couple of years, we've done in the 3s.”
The last time a horse attempted to win the Triple Crown — Smarty Jones in 2004 — NBC earned an 11.3 rating, reaching 18.3 million homes.
This year, NBC earned a 7.3 for the Kentucky Derby and a 4.7 for the Preakness Stakes, both off slightly from 2007. KFOR-4, the Oklahoma City affiliate, was down 30 percent for both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.
Winning the Triple Crown has become more difficult in recent years because of larger fields and horses are more rested, analyst Jerry Bailey said. Bailey should know. He helped spoil Funny Cide's bid in 2003 when he rode Empire Maker to a victory in the Belmont.
"I wouldn't say they are coddled, but they are managed more carefully,” Bailey said.