Triple Crown season lost steam unusually early this year when none of the top finishers in the Kentucky Derby went on to run in the Preakness.
But this is a familiar conundrum for the Belmont Stakes, where organizers are used to waiting anxiously for the next Triple Crown candidate. In the years when no such contender emerges, the race invariably loses appeal for the casual fan. It's still an important event for the thoroughbred racing industry, especially given the packed undercard. There's just no easy hook for the viewer who only perks up for super horses such as American Pharoah or Justify.
In the absence of such a star, here are five stories to watch heading into the final leg of the Triple Crown on June 8.
Is there any reason for a casual sports fan to watch the 2019 Belmont Stakes?
Might as well jump right to the elephant in this room. The Belmont always holds some fascination because it presents a unique endurance test for the top 3-year-old horses in the country. None of them have ever raced over 1 1/2 miles and most of them never will again.
That's still not much of a hook for those outside the bubble. So in the absence of a potential Triple Crown winner, is there some other narrative carryover from the Derby or Preakness?
The controversial finish to the Derby -- where Country House was handed victory after Maximum Security was disqualified for swerving into the paths of other contenders -- generated fierce national debate. But neither horse showed up for a rematch in Baltimore and neither will run in New York next weekend. So the intrigue and squabbling did little to build drama for the remainder of the Triple Crown series.
We saw evidence of waning interest in television ratings for the Preakness, which were down about 21% nationally compared to 2018.
The Preakness produced a worthy champion in War of Will, one of the horses impeded by Maximum Security in the Derby. But even as he received his winner's blanket in Baltimore, viewers seemed more smitten with the riderless Bodexpress, who'd run the race after dumping jockey John Velazquez at the starting gate.
Will the Belmont offer us another dose of weird? Perhaps that's the reason to continue watching the most askew Triple Crown series in recent memory.