05/22/2002 11:00PM

Preakness ratings edge up

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The final national television rating for NBC's broadcast of the Preakness Stakes last Saturday was a 5.7, up 2 percent over last year's rating and the highest since 1990.

Each rating point is equal to approximately 1.1 million households. Share, a measure of the percentage of televisions in use that were tuned to the broadcast, fell, however, dropping from a 16 to a 14 because many more people were watching television this year at the time the Preakness was being broadcast.

The ratings for the 102-minute broadcast peaked from 6:00 to 6:30 p.m. Eastern, when rating and share were 7.8 and a 19. The peak rating was up 8 percent compared to last year, while peak share was even. The race went off at 6:12 p.m.

The rating was up 58 percent compared to 2000, when ABC broadcast its final Preakness. NBC took over the Triple Crown last year, and its first move was to eliminate competition for the Derby and Preakness from its NBA telecasts.

Preakness winner War Emblem, trained by Bob Baffert, is scheduled to start next on June 8 in the Belmont Stakes, which will also be broadcast on NBC. War Emblem is expected to be a heavy favorite to win the Triple Crown.

"We're delighted to continue building on the increases we saw last year," said Cameron Blanchard, a spokeswoman for NBC. "And with history on the line, it bodes well for the Belmont Stakes.

In 1997, 1998, and 1999, the last three times there was a Triple Crown possibility, ratings for the Belmont broadcasts were nearly double the rating in 1996.

Last year, NBC's rating for the Belmont was a 4.5. It is doubtful, however, that NBC could double that rating. A 9.0 rating for the broadcast would exceed the rating for this year's Kentucky Derby. The Belmont rating has never exceeded that of the Derby, which is always the highest-rated racing broadcast of the year.