With a Triple Crown possible, TV viewership could surge

  • Viewership is expected to triple during this Saturday's Belmont Stakes horse race with the possibility of a Triple Crown winner.
  • Bets on the race will also likely increase, according to The New York Racing Association.

The stakes are high for this Saturday's 150th running of the Belmont Stakes — and not just for Justify, the undefeated horse that may ride take the Triple Crown, something only 12 horses have ever managed to do.

The average television viewership for the last three non-Triple Crown races was about 5.9 million, according to NBC Sports Group, which owns the broadcast rights. Compare that with 19.6 million, the average number of viewers in 2014 and 2015 when a Triple Crown was a possibility.

The Triple Crown is the very elusive title given to a 3-year-old thoroughbred horse that manages to win three races: The Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes. Saturday's race is being held at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York.

If Justify wins it will be No. 13.

In May, the colt won the 144th Kentucky Derby by 2½ lengths in just more than 2 minutes. Justify also won the Preakness Stakes in May by a half-length.

Bob Baffert, the legendary horse trainer who won the Triple Crown in 2015 with the horse American Pharoah, and who also trains Justify, can still remember the intensity of when American Pharoah won.

"It's that kind of electricity in the air, when you're so glad you were there and part of it," Baffert said Wednesday on "Squawk on the Street."

"That's why everybody goes out there," he said. "That's why it'll be packed, because you want to feel that excitement."

The field heads toward the first turn during the 144th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 5, 2018 in Louisville, Kentucky.
Getty Images
The field heads toward the first turn during the 144th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 5, 2018 in Louisville, Kentucky.

According to the The New York Racing Association, betting on the race will also likely increase. In 2015, when American Pharaoh was up for the Triple Crown, wagers on the race were about $75 million. The numbers fell to about $47 million the following year when there was no Triple Crown possibility.

Baffert said he'll have a front-row seat Saturday: in a box near the wire.

"I'm the guy that looks nervous as hell," he said.

"All you hope for is that the horse breaks cleanly and gets out there," Baffert said. "You don't want him to break poorly and be behind."

Watch the race Saturday at 2 p.m. ET on NBC Sports, or 4 p.m. ET on NBC.

Disclosure: CNBC parent NBCUniversal owns NBC and NBC Sports.