The 2009 Preakness had the headline attraction of the Kentucky Derby winner, Mine That Bird, running against the popular filly Rachel Alexandra. As a result, it was the most watched Preakness in five years and the second most watched in 20 years. The television rating was 7.9 and the share of audience was 18%.

While the 2010 edition of the Preakness did not have this kind of marquee girl vs. the boys matchup to promote, it nonetheless did reasonably well by comparison. It had a 6.4 rating (-19% from 2009), which equates to about 7.4 million of the 114.9 million television households in the United States with their sets tuned to the 2010 Preakness. It had a share of audience of 15% (-16.7% from 2009), meaning that about 49.024 million television households had their sets turned on during the 2010 Preakness telecast (7.4 million/49.024 million = 15.1%.)

Another performance benchmark for the 2010 Preakness: The NBA playoff Game 6 between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics on Thursday, May 13, in primetime at 8 PM, was ESPN’s second most viewed college or professional basketball game in the network’s history, with a 6.6 rating, and the third most watched ESPN program so far in 2010. The Cavs-Celtics Game 6 garnered an average of 7.6 million households and 8.9 million viewers. Although the Preakness was on network TV and the NBA game on cable TV, the Preakness was not run during prime time. Overall, the Preakness came off very well when compared to playoff Game 6 between the Cavs and Celtics.

Preakness betting handle on the 13-race card at Pimlico was $79,209,170, the sixth highest figure in Preakness-day history. Still, this was down by 8.6% from the $86,684,470 wagered in 2009 on the Rachel Alexandra/Mine That Bird showdown.

Not surprisingly, on-track attendance at Pimlico in 2010 (95,760) was up by 22.9% over 2009 (77,850). In 2009, many people boycotted the Pimlico infield after the racetrack instituted a restrictive alcohol policy, which the track largely reversed in 2010. Temperatures in the 70s with no rain also contributed to the turnout.

Super Saver, the Kentucky Derby winner, did not create a lot of pre-race fan enthusiasm about his possibly winning the Triple Crown, nor was there a particularly alluring storyline about him or his connections. His owners are extremely wealthy people doing business on a large Bluegrass farm and his trainer is an unflappable, buttoned-down conditioner of blueblood racing stock; a winning combination but not colorful.

In contrast, in 2009, Mine That Bird and his owners and trainer were made-for-TV characters out of the Southwest. They were prototypical underdogs who grabbed people’s attention. The longshot gelding–previously fourth in the Sunland Derby–traveled from New Mexico to Louisville in a two-horse trailer driven by his laconic cowboy trainer, who most racing fans had never heard of and who was on a crutch to support a leg he broke in a motorcycle accident.

Two weeks after the Kentucky Derby, there was plenty of interest leading up to the Preakness in seeing how Mine That Bird would do against the billionaire-owned Rachel Alexandra. The media picked up on the story and the publicity boosted handle and TV ratings.

Irrespective of jockey Calvin Borel’s vow in the excitement immediately following Super Saver’s win in the 2010 Kentucky Derby that the colt would take the Triple Crown, Super Saver does not have the profile for the arduous task. He is of small physical stature and is not manifestly any better, if as good, as a handful of his peers. Thus he did not generate the anticipatory buzz that would drive up betting handle, TV ratings, and attendance. As it turned out, the colt briefly contended and then faded into the pack.

Lacking a compelling fan interest, the Preakness did surprisingly well.

With Super Saver and Preakness winner Lookin at Lucky bypassing the Belmont Stakes, coupled with NYRA’s precarious financial situation and restricted marketing budget, the prospects for a Belmont Stakes with robust betting handle, strong on-track attendance, and good television ratings are slim. No doubt a small spotlight will be on Ice Box, a fast-closing second from far back in the field in the Kentucky Derby, but he does not have the requisite name recognition or a well-known rival. In addition, with this week’s decision not to run Dublin in the Belmont, the field will not  include any colt that has competed in all three Triple Crown races.

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