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NBC has vested interest in California Chrome winning Triple Crown at Belmont Stakes

Exercise riders and outriders hitting the track in

Exercise riders and outriders hitting the track in the early morning hours at Belmont Racetrack in Elmont on June 3, 2014. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams, Jr.

'We're not here to root," Mike Battaglia said. "We're here to report what happens."

Then the NBC horse racing analyst added this: "You know, we'd all like to see a Triple Crown winner."

Credit Battaglia with honesty in summing up the network's complicated emotions regarding the Belmont Stakes as he joined colleagues on a conference call with reporters Wednesday.

On one hand, NBC will be there as a journalistic entity to chronicle a potentially historic event.

On the other, the network that carries the Triple Crown races is in the same boat as the rest of the industry: It really, really could use the dose of publicity and excitement a victory by California Chrome would provide.

Hence the not-rooting-but-really-rooting thing.

"I'm really looking forward to it," NBC's Tom Hammond said. "And while we won't be rooting, I would like in the rest of my lifetime at least to see a Triple Crown winner if we could and to cover one would be great."

Hammond was in the house when Affirmed beat Alydar in 1978, but not on the air. NBC did not have the rights to the race back then and with its deep stable of horse racing mavens is itching to put its stamp on a Crown winner.

How about one last "not-rooting" quote before we move on:

"We're not rooting, obviously, but having seen failures so often through so many years, we all would love at some point to see one of these horses pull it off," analyst Randy Moss said.

"We all think California Chrome not only is a great story, but he's in there with the fighting chance to pull it off. Maybe he's the one."

In ratings terms, NBC will be a winner as long as Chrome makes it to the starting gate -- unlike I'll Have Another two years ago, who was scratched on Friday.

Tomorrow's race is unlikely to surpass the 21.9 million viewers Smarty Jones' 2004 Triple Crown attempt drew, but it will attract a huge audience.

The network is mounting an ambitious production that producer Rob Hyland called its biggest ever for the Belmont in terms of schedule, announcers and facilities, including six or seven more cameras than if Chrome had not won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.

NBC sent an ESPN-esque 1,700-word news release explaining it all. It includes 16 hours of coverage from Belmont on NBC and NBCSN starting at 5 p.m. Friday and also the full weight of NBC's synergy powers, with CNBC, MSNBC and The Weather Channel all set to be on-site Friday.

And then there's this: According to a news release, "Today" hosts Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb will "toast the Belmont Stakes with Belmont Jewel cocktails instead of their signature glasses of wine."

Meanwhile, on the Internet, NBC will offer live streams on race day including alternate camera angles, such as an isolation shot that follows California Chrome from start to finish.

Back to the (sort of) rooting thing: Jerry Bailey, now an NBC analyst, was aboard Empire Maker in 2003 when he ended Funny Cide's bid at Belmont.

"At that point in time my job was to try and win a race even if it included denying the horse a Triple Crown," he said. "But from this side of the fence, I have the interest of what's best for the sport. To see it would be wonderful."

From Crown to CupNBC would like to drive as much of its Belmont Stakes audience as possible to Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final Saturday night, which would mean a quick handoff after the postrace coverage.

Post time for the Belmont is 6:52 p.m. The hockey game between the Rangers and Kings variously has been listed as 7, 7:15 and 7:30 p.m. Truth is, the start time is a little fuzzy, and could be affected if NBC has major news to cover after the race.

NBC would like to move to hockey around 7:15, with post-Belmont coverage continuing on NBCSN.

"I guess everything is flexible," Hyland said. "But as of now, the hockey game is scheduled to start at 7:30 . . . Obviously, if the story were to emerge and we hadn't finished telling it, we will have the chance to continue telling it until it's dealt with. We're not getting off the air before all stories have been sewed up."

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