Belmont Stakes: NBC plans vast coverage of California Chrome's Triple Crown pursuit

The Fresno BeeJune 5, 2014 

California Chrome, with exercise rider Willie Delgado in the saddle, gallops in the rain at Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y., on Thursday. NBC will offer unprecedented coverage of Chrome's Triple Crown attempt.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

NBC will provide unprecedented coverage of California Chrome's attempt to become the first Triple Crown winner in 36 years, capped by Saturday's running of the Belmont Stakes.

From a record-breaking 45 cameras to 16 hours of coverage on the network and its sister cable channel, NBCSN, it will be the most thoroughly covered race in the Belmont's 146-year history.

"This is the biggest Belmont production that NBC has produced in terms of broadcast schedule, the technical facilities and our field announcers," Rob Hyland, coordinating producer of NBC's horse racing coverage, said in a telephone conference call that included veteran commentator Tom Hammond; analyst Randy Moss; Hall of Fame jockey Jerry Bailey; analysts/handicappers Mike Battaglia and Bob Neumeier; and race caller Larry Collmus.

The team behind the coverage is cautiously optimistic about whether they'll see history made or another Triple Crown near-miss.

NBC has been in this spot four times, most recently in 2012 when I'll Have Another scratched on the eve of the Belmont race with a tendon injury. The most recent failed run was in 2008, when Big Brown could not add the third jewel after victories at the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.

Hyland said that as soon as it was confirmed California Chrome would be going for history, his network began pumping up its coverage plans.

Along with seven more cameras than it used for the two previous races, NBC has added microphones — including in the tunnel to capture the journey by California Chrome to the track, and on co-owner Steve Coburn and trainer Art Sherman.

Collmus — in the sixth grade when Affirmed pulled off the last Triple Crown sweep — knows he has one very important duty.

"Obviously, the majority of the people watching this race are going to care about California Chrome, where he is, and my job is to let people know that. So my race call definitely will focus on California Chrome more than most of the other horses in the race," Collmus said. "But they're all going to get a call."

Oddsmakers believe the long dry spell will come to an end. After the post-position draw Wednesday morning, with California Chrome set to race out of the No. 2 gate, the odds for the Valley-bred and trained horse to win were set at 3-5. If those odds hold, a winning ticket would pay 60 cents for every dollar bet.

Neumeier said he doesn't believe the money matters: "I think there's a lot of people that would love to (bet) for $2 or $10 and won't even cash the ticket and frame it as a memento."

Battaglia said he considers California Chrome to be the best horse he's seen this year, but predicted it will be a tough race because "jockey Victor Espinoza has got a target on his back."

All of the broadcasters agreed that the starting-gate assignment is not as important compared to how California Chrome breaks and then how the race sets up.

Social Inclusion was expected to set the pace but didn't enter. The broadcasters agreed that four horses — including California Chrome — will now be called on to set the pace and that it probably will be slow.

Bailey said he will be watching how California Chrome takes to the unfamiliar Belmont track. It is the longest of the three Triple Crown races at 1½ miles, and the big test is on the far turn.

"Because it is so large, the tendency for riders who are riding on a normal-size track, a mile track, is to kind of move when we get to the far turn," Bailey said. "A move on the far turn at Belmont is much further. You have a lot longer distance to travel than you would at either of the other two Triple Crown races.

"The jockeys have to be very cognizant."

There will be another race — whether NBC can wrap up coverage before the start of the network's broadcast of Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals between the New York Rangers and Los Angeles Kings.

Game time is 4:15 p.m., just minutes after the Belmont race ends. Hyland promised that if there is a pending story with the race, the network will not go to the hockey game until the matter is covered.

NBCSN picks up at 4 p.m. with post-race coverage.


FOLLOWING ALONG

A look at lead-up and race-day TV coverage of the Belmont Stakes:

FRIDAY

• "California Chrome: The Unlikely Champion," 12:30 p.m., 5 p.m., 9 p.m., NBCSN

• "Belmont Classics (2002 Sarava, 2003 Empire Maker, 2004 Birdstone)," 1 p.m., NBCSN

• "Belmont Stakes Access," 2 p.m., 7:30 p.m., NBCSN

• 140th Kentucky Derby replay, 5:30 p.m., NBCSN

• 139th Preakness Stakes replay, 6:30 p.m., NBCSN

SATURDAY

• Belmont undercard, 11:30 a.m., NBCSN

• 146th Belmont Stakes, prerace coverage begins at 1:30 p.m., KSEE (Ch. 24.1)

• Postrace show, 4 p.m., NBCSN

TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, rbentley@fresnobee.com or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at www.fresnobeehive.com.

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