ESPN’s loss is NBC’s gain—earlier this week after ABC/ESPN dropped out of the bidding to broadcast the Belmont Stakes NBC inked a deal to add the third leg of the Triple Crown to their televised sports lineup. NBC will broadcast the Belmont Stakes through at least 2015 , with the Friday marquee race for fillies—the Black Eyed Susan—being shown on the NBC owned Versus cable network. This year will be the first time since 2005 that all three Triple Crown races will be broadcast on the same television network.
ESPN signed a deal to carry the Belmont through 2010 but pulled out abruptly for unannounced reasons—most likely, the decision was made that the iconic horse race didn’t fit with their ‘dumbed down’ format of poker, competitive eating and 24/7 catch phrase spewing. NBC was quick to seal the deal with the Belmont interests and extend their agreement with Churchill Downs to broadcast the Kentucky Derby.
NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol said that he was pleased that his company will be able to “to significantly expand the reach of these iconic events” by leveraging the Versus network. Versus will broadcast the Black Eyed Susan on the Friday before the Belmont as well as the Kentucky Oaks the day before the Kentucky Derby. The arrangement will further enhance Versus’ sports lineup which includes UFC events, NHL hockey, college football and the Tour De France.
The Kentucky Derby will be broadcast on NBC on May 7th, with the Preakness on May 21 from Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore. The 1 ½ mile Belmont will take place on June 11.
The Triple Crown is one of the most difficult accomplishments in all of sports. Only 11 horses in history have managed to win the Kentucky Derby, Belmont and Preakness in the same year. There’s been a 33 year drought since Affirmed won the last Triple Crown in 1978. During the 1970’s, three horses managed to pull the ‘trifecta’—Seattle Slew won all three races in 1977 and the legendary Secretariat made his immortal Triple Crown run in 1973.
Since then, there have been 11 horses to win the Kentucky Derby and Belmont but fall short on the daunting 1 ½ mile Belmont course. The last to head into Belmont day with a shot at winning the Triple Crown was Big Brown in 2008. Big Brown went off a 3/10 Belmont betting favorite on that day, but failed to finish the race after jockey Kent Desormeaux pulled him up in the home stretch. Big Brown became the only Triple Crown hopeful to finish last in the Belmont Stakes and Desormeaux’s decision—which he cryptically explained by saying “I had no horse”—generated a lot of controversy at the time. Billy Turner, trainer of Seattle Slew, famously quipped “If Desormeaux had pulled up a horse like that in my day, the Stewards would have ran you out of the state and told you to never come back.” Desormeaux was vindicated a couple of weeks later when photos revealed a dislodged shoe on Big Brown’s right hind leg. It wasn’t anything particularly dangerous, but to Desormeaux’s credit he likely was concerned that his mount has suffered physical damage and put the horse’s well being over the competitive pressure of winning the race.