Will a Triple Crown winner help or hurt horse racing?

All eyes will be focused on the 146th Belmont Stakes in New York this weekend. It is one of the biggest weekends in horse races in recent history — a win for California Chrome would mark him as the first Triple Crown winner in 36 years.

For those new to horse racing, the Triple Crown is a coveted rarity. It entails winning the Kentucky Derby in Louisville, the Preakness in Baltimore and lastly, the Belmont Stakes in New York. The last horse to claim the title was Affirmed in 1978. A dozen horses since then have made it to the exact spot California Chrome is at right now, winning the first two legs and faltering at the longest race of the three in New York. Less than a dozen horses have won the elusive title.

California Chrome’s celebrity status (especially as the odds-on favorite to win the Belmont Stakes) is bringing plenty of attention to the horse racing world. But will a win help or hurt the sport?

The sport’s big races have remained wildly popular, but the sport as a whole has declined as lotteries, casinos and other gambling opportunities have proliferated. But those who remember the glory days of the 1930s and 40s, when six of the 11 winners claimed the title, are skeptical that even the sport’s remaining big races can stay popular. Are those remaining popular races only popular because we’re all waiting with baited breath for the next Triple Crown winner?

A recent article from the Bleacher Report asks the same question.

TV ratings can make or break television series, and many who may deserve more air time get axed because of the lack of an audience. The same goes for horse racing: in years where there isn’t a Triple Crown contender, ratings drop. The popularity of the acclaimed California Chrome poises an interesting question for horse racing. His six-win streak, and the recent press over the use of a nose patch to help his breathing, have kept the horse consistently in headlines over the past few weeks.

But, like most things, popularity fades.

The Bleacher Report compares it to the historical moon landing, which was all the world could talk about in the late 1960’s and early 70s. Interest in space exploration has waned considerably since, “[becoming] nothing more than the contextual footnote of a time long past.”

But even though we may not talk about some things as much as we used to, it doesn’t make the anticipation before the event any less. Every year there is a contender, spectators gather at the Belmont Stakes in a hope that they will get the chance to witness history. A win on June 7 could bring more people into the sport next year.

And even if California Chrome doesn’t win, if the Triple Crown-draught continues into its 37th year, the crowds will still return, as they always do, to see the win first-hand.

UPDATE 6/9/14: California Chrome fell short of the Triple Crown win. Tonalist, a horse that did not compete in either the Kentucky Derby or the Preakness, was the winner. Commissioner took second place, and Medal Count took third. California Chrome and Wicked Strong tied for fourth.

Comments are closed.