Fox Sports on-air personality Chris "The Bear" Fallica, who grew...

Fox Sports on-air personality Chris "The Bear" Fallica, who grew up on Long Island. Credit: Fox Sports

Fox Sports will carry the Belmont Stakes for the first time on Saturday, so in that sense everything about its coverage will be new.

But the newness will be felt – and seen – particularly keenly for one of its analysts.

After a long run at ESPN, it will be the first Fox assignment for Chris Fallica, who grew up in East Moriches and is a Westhampton Beach High School alumnus.

Fallica was known as “The Bear” on “College GameDay,” a show he joined in 1996 as a researcher and for which he later became a popular on-camera personality.

While his role at Fox still is being fleshed out, he will be back on the college football beat on “Big Noon Kickoff” this autumn.

But he is happy to have his first gig be talking about horses at a home-region track.

“Growing up in Suffolk County, I had, obviously, Belmont and Aqueduct and I had a quarter horse [facility], Suffolk Meadows, right by my house,” Fallica, 51, told Newsday.

“I was always interested in horse racing and the Triple Crown. It's been something that I've grown up with, just based on where I lived.”

The sport also suits the specialty Fallica had on “GameDay,” which is wagering. On Saturday, he will offer his analysis for a difficult-to-handicap field alongside host Charissa Thompson.

“It is wide open,” he said, then listed an array of narrative angles that could draw interest even without a Triple Crown on the line.

They include Forte, the Kentucky Derby favorite before a foot injury sidelined him, and the return to Belmont of controversial National Treasure trainer Bob Baffert.

“I think there are enough stories in this race between Forte, Baffert and others to attract the casual sports fan in addition to those of us who watch and wager and love the sport on a daily basis,” Fallica said.

Fallica said he expects Fox to bring a fresh perspective to Belmont coverage, and to cater to both avid fans and newcomers.

Fox will use track announcer Tom Durkin, a longtime voice of the Triple Crown and NYRA tracks until his retirement in 2014.

“Getting him was a big thing,” producer Pete Macheska told The Associated Press. “Now, you know, Tom hasn’t done it for a while. He’s been practicing.

“It’s not that easy to just pick it up after you haven’t done it for several years. I think he'll be very excited about it and we're thrilled to have him.”

Tune in Saturday for Fallica’s official picks, but in the days leading up to the race he had two suggestions: Tapit Trice (3-1) for a relatively safe choice or Hit Show (10-1) for a bigger payday.

Listening to Fallica explain his picks in detail illustrated both his interest in and knowledge of the sport.

Other than his personal passion for following the Islanders and his professional passion for football, both horse racing and soccer rank high on his favorites list.

He said people often are surprised when he says the best event he worked on at ESPN was the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

That now is a Fox property, which with horse racing and other sports – plus a raise from his last contract at ESPN – helped lure him from his longtime TV home.

Fallica said his ESPN colleagues were uniformly understanding and supportive.

“One of the big reasons why I had this opportunity is what ESPN allowed me to do and allowed me to become and gave me the platform they did,” he said. “Now I’m going to take it, run with it and try to make it bigger and better.”

Fallica viewed the attention his move got publicly as him resonating with viewers as a “normal sports fan” like them.

“I was a little surprised, but at the same time I was kind of flattered and humbled and honored and excited that enough people care and respect [me],” he said.

Fallica was supposed to appear on Fox’s Super Bowl LVII pregame in February, but just before his flight to Arizona took off he became ill and deplaned.

“I was kind of bummed,” he said, “because I was really looking forward to it.”

He became more bummed when he saw every analyst pick the Eagles, depriving him of a memorable opening splash. He would have picked Kansas City, which won the game.

Fox did introduce Derek Jeter as one of its new analysts on that pregame show. Was Jeter Plan B after Fallica fell ill? “One New York legend for another,” Fallica said.

He is happy to settle for the Belmont as his Fox coming out party.

“If it couldn't have been the Super Bowl, this is probably the next best thing,” he said, “with all the connections that I have to the sport and growing up around it.”

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