Hopes of Triple Crown Ratings Windfall Dashed for NBC

Ill Have Another - H 2012
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Ill Have Another - H 2012

A tendon injury has forced I'll Have Another into retirement and out of Triple Crown contention at the Belmont Stakes.

There will be no Triple Crown – and what would have likely been a ratings windfall for NBC. I’ll Have Another has been forced into retirement after presenting with swelling in a left front tendon. Trainer Paul O’Neill made the announcement Friday afternoon at Belmont Park in upstate New York, where hundreds of reporters and photographers had already amassed for what could have been the first Triple Crown in 34 years.

“It’s been an incredible ride and incredible run,” O’Neill told reporters on Friday. “It’s just a freakish thing.”

The last horse to take the Triple Crown – winning the Preakness, Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes – was Affirmed in 1978. Only 11 horses have won the Triple Crown; a grueling schedule of three races in five weeks. Since 1990, 21 horses, including I'll Have Another, have won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness.

NBC had expanded its Belmont Stakes coverage from about six hours to eleven to take advantage of the pitched interest in the potential Triple Crown, which in the past has attracted a large audience of casual horse racing viewers. Without a Triple Crown, last year’s Belmont was watched by 6.8 million viewers. And NBC executives had anticipated an audience at least twice that size with I’ll Have Another in the starting gate. The last horse to vie for the Triple Crown was Big Brown in 2008. He did not win the Belmont, but race coverage was watched by 13.1 million viewers.

“While we are obviously disappointed that our show won’t feature I’ll Have Another going for the elusive Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes is still an iconic event on the sports schedule, and the NBC Sports Group broadcasts will treat it as such,” the network said in a statement. “We’re working now to adjust the game plan accordingly.”

Saturday’s coverage of the Belmont undercard is scheduled to begin at 3 p.m. on NBC Sports Network with Belmont coverage commencing at 4:30 p.m. on NBC.

Email: Marisa.Guthrie@thr.com; Twitter: @MarisaGuthrie