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Triple Crown would be special to NBC's Tom Hammond

NBC's Tom Hammond will call the Belmont Stakes

NBC's Tom Hammond will call the Belmont Stakes -- and perhaps see a Triple Crown winner. Credit: Handout

It is becoming increasingly difficult to find television types who go back far enough to actually remember witnessing a Triple Crown winner.

But horse racing history is right up the alley of NBC's Belmont Stakes host, Tom Hammond, who grew up in the heart of Kentucky horse culture and once envisioned himself in the thoroughbred business rather than the TV business.

So he knows the ups and downs of this stuff.

His first Belmont was in 1964 -- the race was held at Aqueduct that year -- when Northern Dancer fell short after winning the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.

And he was there in 1973 for Secretariat's Belmont victory and in 1978 for Affirmed's.

For the latter he stayed the night before the race with an old Kentucky friend, Mets second baseman Doug Flynn, and then for the race itself he stood beside another friend, track announcer Chic Anderson.

Hammond, 71, did not have a formal working role at those races -- he was a local sportscaster in Lexington in the 1970s -- but his background has him even more eager than most to see American Pharoah become the 21st century's first Triple Crown winner.

"Absolutely, to be a part of the broadcast that will take it to the world and to be part of history will be special for me," he said, adding that as much as he has enjoyed calling 11 Olympics and countless basketball and football games, "this one would be close to my heart because racing has been special for me, and it's the reason I got to NBC in the first place."

Hammond's voice drips of horse country, a connection that dates to the first races he saw at Keeneland as a teen and later as the announcer for the Keeneland Sales. In high school he worked at breeding farms around Lexington and as a collegian he worked at Belmont as a hot-walker and groom.

Later, he filled in for a friend reading race results on the radio, and a new career path was born.

"I think that next to the Olympics, thoroughbred racing has more interesting stories than any sport I cover," Hammond said. "It's not only owners, trainers and jockeys, it's the horses themselves. If you tell a good story, a very interesting story, that person might be one that comes back to racing."

If all goes well for American Pharoah on Saturday, racing -- and Hammond -- at last will have a new Triple Crown story to tell.


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