Belmont Stakes: NBC Beefs Up Coverage as Triple Crown Hopeful Looks to Boost Ratings (Video)

2:28 PM PST 06/03/2014 by Debbie Emery
NBC

As California Chrome attempts to become the first horse to win the Triple Crown in 36 years, NBC is doubling its coverage and airing a special documentary on the thoroughbred Cinderella story.

After winning the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, California Chrome has the opportunity to make history at the Belmont Stakes on Saturday by becoming the 13th horse ever to win the Triple Crown.

For the 146th running of the 1.5 mile race in Elmont, New York, NBC has doubled its coverage for a total of 16 hours including documentaries on California Chrome and previous Belmont winners that caused Triple Crown upsets, live pre-races on Friday and Saturday running up to the main event, plus Sam Champion will be on site for the The Weather Channel's AMHQ and Josh Elliott is doing a behind-the-scenes look at the Belmont for E! along with features and interviews from the historic racetrack. 

Undoubtedly the focus of the main event is California Chrome, a 3-year-old chestnut thoroughbred who began his career as the quintessential underdog. But after becoming only the forth California-bred horse to win the Kentucky Derby on May 3, he now has the opportunity to become the first to complete the Triple Crown in 36 years. The last horse to do it was Affirmed in 1978, who was then the second favorite with 9-5 odds.

It is not only racing fans who are relishing the prospect of California Chrome's achievement, as a Triple Crown prospect has proven to be ratings gold over the years.

Since 2001, the last four attempts at the Triple Crown have averaged 16 million viewers; when the Crown wasn't at stake (because a different horse had won the Derby and the Preakness), Belmont ratings averaged 7 million viewers. A spokesperson for NBC puts internal projections for this year in the optimistic 17 million range.

In 2004, Smarty Jones' bid brought in 21.9 million viewers, and four years later Big Brown drew in 13.1 million in his failed attempt. I'll Have Another got racing fans fired up in 2012, but then trainer Doug O'Neill pulled him from the race the day before because of a tendon injury.

As part of the network's build-up to the big day, NBC is airing a special documentary on Wednesday titled California Chrome: The Unlikely Champion, telling the story of the playful colt who has his own favorite brand of cookies and recently "signed" an endorsement deal with shoe company Skechers. 

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Narrated by Bob Costas (who is also the NBC host on race day), the doc details the story of co-owners Steve Coburn and Perry Martin, who came together to form an odd team with trainer Art Sherman and jockey Victor Espinoza.

"The two men who spent just $10,000 to get the horse they wanted, the 77-year-old trainer who hadn’t been anywhere close to sports' biggest stage in nearly 60 years and the jockey who thought his best days were behind him," says Costas in a preview of the doc.

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"These are the unlikely characters coming to Belmont Park bidding to complete a feat that's turned away all contenders for 36 years.

"Forget the odds, because everything that's happened already adds up to a tale you would never bet on anyway."

California Chrome: The Unlikely Champion airs on NBCSN at 6.30 p.m. ET on Wednesday, and coverage of the 146th Belmont Stakes begins at 2.30 p.m ET with the race at 4.30 p.m. ET.

Watch a video clip below. 

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