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Just Off-Camera

"They respect you if you write. The dumber the world gets, the more the words matter." -Dan Jenkins


Friday, May 20, 2005

The Visa Triple Crown Conspiracy

Go bet on Giacomo to win the Triple Crown. Do it ASAP, before the Preakness gets underway. Never mind that he's not even favored to win the Preakness, or that he was a 50-1 shot to win the Kentucky Derby, or that the odds are 20-1 against him winning the Triple Crown. Just go do it. I did it. Why am I so sure?

Take a seat. I'm about to blow the cover off of something big.

Since 1875, there have been 125 years in which all three Triple Crown races have been run (there was no Preakness from 1891-1893 and no Belmont Stakes from 1911-1912). Twenty times during that period, the same horse has won the first two legs but come up short in the Belmont. That averages out to about once every six or seven years. This may seem strange to you, because you probably recall several horses going for a Triple Crown in recent years. You'd be right. In six of the last eight years, the same horse has won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, but not the Belmont.

If you're the impatient type, you're thinking that this unusual frequency proves nothing, and that it is just a mere statistical aberration. Besides, the Belmont Stakes is a quarter mile longer than the Derby (and 5/16 of a mile longer than the Preakness). Doesn't that extra quarter mile mean that it's better suited for different horses? Well, maybe...but hear me out.

The recent frequency of horses that missed the last leg would be easy to attribute to random chance - if it weren't for the fact that something important happened behind the scenes of the Triple Crown at about the same time. In 1996, Visa began sponsoring the Triple Crown. If you've watched any of the races, you've heard it called the "Visa Triple Crown."

If there isn't a horse going for the Triple Crown, nobody's going to watch the Belmont Stakes. A quick search for Nielsen ratings for past Belmont Stakes showed me that the 9.2 in 2002, for War Emblem's unsuccessful attempt, was the highest rated Belmont since 1987 (which was Alysheba's unsuccessful try). Since then, the ratings have only increased - 10.4 for Funny Cide in '03, and 11.3 for Smarty Jones last year (the highest rated Belmont since 1981, which, not surprisingly, featured Pleasant Colony in an unsuccessful attempt at a Crown). So the Nielsen numbers back up what common sense tells us.

Therefore, it's in Visa's best interest to have a horse win the first two legs of the Triple Crown in order to receive the maximum exposure possible for its sponsorship.

"Why then," you may be asking, "hasn't a horse actually won the Triple Crown in the last eight years? Surely Visa would receive even more exposure from such a result, and if they could somehow pull the strings to make the Derby winner also win the Preakness, why not the Belmont, too?"

Excellent question. Here's why. Visa has dangled a five million dollar prize to any horse that wins the Triple Crown. Visa doesn't want to shell out five mil. You might argue that five million is peanuts in return for the publicity they'd get for sponsoring the Triple Crown when a horse wins it all. Well, perhaps, but if a horse wins the Crown, then the anticipation doesn't build for next year. Did you notice that the ratings for the Belmont have increased for each of the last three attempts at a Triple Crown? If a horse wins the Crown, then there won't be as much interest the next year. As the wait increases, so do the ratings. It's been 27 years since the last Triple Crown winner - the longest drought since the first Crown was won in 1919. With each year, tension builds. Therefore, Visa doesn't want a Triple Crown winner so that the next year's Belmont receives even more press.

"Wait a minute," you're thinking now. "You just contradicted yourself. You said that Giacomo would win the Triple Crown this year, but then you said that Visa doesn't want Triple Crown winners. You're totally wrong."

Well, I thought that at first. I figured Giacomo would win the Preakness, and then I'd bet on another horse to take the Belmont. Maybe I'd even bet Giacomo to place. But let's think about something here. If a change in sponsorship could make a difference in the race results in the past, couldn't it happen again?

Visa so happens to be in the last year of its sponsorship of the Triple Crown. This is the last time "Visa Triple Crown" will be falling out of the mouths of the talking heads. And so Visa now has lost its interest in prolonging the anticipation for a Triple Crown winner. Now is the time for its investment to pay off - the publicity that comes with a horse finally winning the Triple Crown. If Visa was actually pulling strings in the past, then why not this year? It may be harder, because by almost all accounts, Giacomo isn't that great of a horse. But Visa wants him to win the Preakness and the Belmont.

And what Visa wants, Visa usually gets.

The Nielsen ratings will be through the roof for the Belmont if Giacomo is making a run at the Triple Crown. And the phrase "Visa Triple Crown" will be thrown all over the news if Giacomo wins it all.

Last year, after Smarty Jones blew his chance at racing immortality, I mused about a possible fix. I didn't really take the time to look into a reason beyond the obvious. But Visa's sponsorship coincides a little too neatly with this sudden run on Derby-Preakness winners losing the Belmont. If the fix is indeed in, then why should I let Visa rake in all the profit? I'm going to pick up some money myself.

Besides, tomorrow's my birthday. Giacomo could at least give me the hope at a payday with a win in the Preakness.

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  • At Wednesday, May 25, 2005 6:59:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Happy Birthday, Dude.

    So if I got this straight, then, you bet on Afleet Alex in the Derby and Giacomo n the Preakness?

     

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