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For NBC, Belmont Stakes is about the Triple Crown, not American Pharoah

Preakness Stakes winner American Pharoah stops his morning

Preakness Stakes winner American Pharoah stops his morning walk to check out the crowd around the stakes barn, Sunday, May 17, 2015 at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore. Credit: AP

NBC already has gotten what it wants out of the Belmont Stakes from a business standpoint. The ratings goal is not to have a horse win the Triple Crown; it is to have a horse go to the gate with a chance to win one.

But for the horse racing mavens in the network's large cast of coverage characters, there is a human side to the long, long quest, too.

Like most of the people at the track and watching at home who do not have a betting or ownership stake in another horse, they would like to see American Pharoah make history.

But coordinating producer Rob Hyland said there is a difference between pulling for a horse and pulling for a moment when it comes to his staff.

"No one is rooting for American Pharoah; people are rooting for a Triple Crown," he said. "To me that's the challenge, and I've challenged our entire production team as we have gone through the format over the last couple weeks to really make sure it is a balance to provide the viewer with the story of American Pharoah as well as the other seven horses."

Host Tom Hammond added, "It is only natural you would like to be a part of history, but most of us are experienced enough to know that we have to be impartial, and I think that that's the case. As Rob said, it's more rooting for the Triple Crown than rooting for the specific horse or the specific connections."

They also are battle-hardened enough to know that no matter how much a Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner appears to be a near-lock, many have failed before, for a variety of reasons.

"There's an old saying in horse racing that there's one way to win the race and 20,000 ways to lose a race," analyst Bob Neumeier said. "You think about great horses like Spectacular Bid, who was a cinch. He stepped on a pin. You have War Emblem, who was a cinch, who started off poorly. You have Smarty Jones, who was a cinch, and he got kind of caught up in a speed duel and a jockey tiff when he was out-finished.

"You have California Chrome, who was a cinch, who just got beat. On and on through history we can just go back to Belmont and see what can happen."

Said analyst Randy Moss: "It's really difficult to separate the history and what's happened in the past to horses with similar opportunities and not let that affect your mindset, because as we go into this one, I can't say American Pharoah is a better horse than Smarty Jones, is a better horse than Big Brown, is a substantially better horse than California Chrome, and yet those horses couldn't pull it off."

One could argue the search for a Triple Crown winner provides annual juice to the sport. But one could argue more persuasively that this thing has gone on so long now that racing and its Triple Crown TV partner have reached the point of diminishing returns.

"The audience no doubt will be huge for this, and so it will be a shot in the arm for racing, and I think it would be better than just to keep waiting, keep waiting," Hammond said.

Said Jon Miller, NBC Sports president of programming: "From a television perspective, obviously it's been a great story and we've been able to tell that story the past couple of years with California Chrome last year and American Pharoah this year.

"But I think it just is a huge boon for the industry if you can have a Triple Crown winner to show that it can happen."

Can it?

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