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Will Triple Crown allure pay off for TV?
Networks hope event brings ratings boost

by Mel Bracht Published: June 6, 2008
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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.

For instance, Denis of Cork, owned by William and Suzanne Warren of Tulsa, skipped the Preakness to concentrate on the Belmont Stakes.

Analyst Randy Moss said he didn't think Big Brown would be hindered much by the quarter crack in his left front hoof.

"It's more of an annoyance to a horse than anything else,” Moss said.

If Big Brown wins the Triple Crown, Moss said he didn't think the stallion ever would race again, following a trend of horses retiring earlier to cash in on lucrative breeding rights.

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by Mel Bracht
Copy Editor, Sports Media
Mel Bracht is a copy editor on the presentation desk and also covers sports media. A 1978 graduate of Indiana University, Bracht has been a print journalist for 34 years. He started his career as sports editor of the Rensselaer (Ind.) Republican...
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