In 1978 when Affirmed won the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes, it marked the second consecutive year that there was a Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing winner, and the third time in five years.
At the time, no one could possibly know that there would not be another Triple Crown winner for the next 33 years.
On Saturday, I'll Have Another has the chance to end that streak and become the first horse to take home the honor since Affirmed. There have been close calls over the years - Real Quiet in 1998, War Emblem in 2002 and Smarty Jones in 2004 spring to mind - but no horse has been able to finish up the last leg and take the crown home.
The coverage begins at 4:30 p.m. ET on Saturday on NBC, and is preceded by 1.5 hours of coverage on NBC Sports Network, and followed by a 30-minute post-race show on the channel. Those covering the race for the network include (among others) co-hosts Bob Costas and Tom Hammond, analyst Randy Moss, handicapper Bob Neumeier, and and race caller Larry Collmus - the long-time (1992-2008) track announcer at Suffolk Downs.
The broadcast will be led by producer Rob Hyland, who gives us a look at the technical side of the broadcast: “We will have 38 cameras on this show. We’ve added three cameras and a bunch of drop locations so you’ll have new imagery pop up at this year’s Belmont. We have two super slo-mo cameras, one X-Mo camera, a blimp for aerial coverage. In total, about 200 members of the production and engineering crew that will cover this year’s Belmont.”
Veteran broadcaster Hammond was working as a sales announcer for various thoroughbred sales, as well as sports director for a Kentucky TV station. He was at the 1978 Belmont that saw Affirmed capture the last Triple Crown. He says “I happened to be standing three feet from Chic Anderson, the caller for at Belmont Park and on CBS that day. And it was one of the most thrilling moments that I’ve seen in horse racing.” He adds that “An event like this is why we became sportscasters in the first place, a chance to be a part of history, to interpret it, to put it in context, to help reviewers enjoy all that’s going on.”
Moss, who you may have seen on ESPN and the NFL Network covering the NFL, is also a veteran of the Triple Crown. He also jokes about being responsible for there not being a winner since 1978: “I’m on my 33rd year now covering the Triple Crown and I have yet to see a Triple Crown winner. I’m beginning to think it’s me.”
We've become accustomed to announcers launching into planed exclamations (Think Joe Castiglione and "Can you believe it!") or longer soliloquies (Think Jack Edwards after Big Bruins wins, or Sean Grande after Celtics won the championship in '08.) after calling a huge game. Does Collmus have something planned if I'll Have Another can pull off the win? “You have to be prepared for something like that and to have it in your head what you would want to say when a moment like this happens." He says. "So, yes, there’s definitely something in my mind that hopefully, if the horse wins, will come out the way I would like it to come out.”
NBC will also integrate social media in their coverage, including tweets from I'll Have Another himself. Viewers and Tweeters alike will be encouraged to join the conversation by using the hashtag #BELMONT. Reminders will appear on screen throughout all of NBC’s Belmont Stakes coverage.
History could be made on Saturday. Will you be watching?