The Belmont Stakes will be run June 20 without spectators at Belmont Park in New York, and the race will be shortened from its traditional mile-and-a-half distance to 1 1/8 miles.
The announcement means the Triple Crown races will be run in a different order than what’s been established since 1969, a product of the coronavirus pandemic’s effect on sports. The Kentucky Derby was postponed to Sept. 5 and the Preakness Stakes will be the final of the three to run on Oct. 3, meaning a Triple Crown winner could be decided in Baltimore.
The Belmont is normally the third and final jewel of the Triple Crown, along with the longest race. This year’s Belmont was shortened, according to race organizers, “to properly account for the schedule adjustments to the Triple Crown series” and the training calendar of what 3-year-old horses are able to accomplish. It has been run at 1½ miles, or 12 furlongs, since 1926.
The Belmont’s new date is just two weeks later than its original date of June 6, yet it marks the first time in history that the Belmont will come before the other two Triple Crown races.
Horse racing in New York halted in late March after a backstretch worker tested positive for COVID-19, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo didn’t give the green light to resume until Saturday.
“The Belmont Stakes is a New York institution that will provide world-class entertainment for sports fans during these challenging times,” New York Racing Association president and CEO Dave O’Rourke said in a statement. “While this will certainly be a unique running of this historic race, we are grateful to be able to hold the Belmont Stakes in 2020. Thanks to our partners at NBC Sports, fans across the country can look forward to a day of exceptional thoroughbred racing at a time when entertainment and sports are so important to providing a sense of normalcy.”
Horse racing author Jennifer Kelly said people will “quibble” about the order of the races and the legitimacy of the shortened Belmont, but overall, fans will be glad the sport’s premier attraction can happen at all.
But might this year’s winning horses be perceived with an asterisk due to the unusual circumstances?
“Ultimately how one will regard the winners this year — especially if we have a horse somehow win all three of them, given how they’re laid out — that will be something that we’ll have to make a judgment about down the road after time has passed and we’ve had a chance to assess how this compares to other years,” Kelly said.
Another effect of the shuffled schedule: For the first time, the top four finishers at the Belmont will earn qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby’s 20-horse gate. A points system to qualify for the Derby was instituted in 2012.
Famed trainer Bob Baffert, who has trained two Triple Crown winners, told reporters that he expects to run Charlatan and Nadal, which swept the two divisions of the Arkansas Derby earlier this month, at the Belmont. Another potential favorite this year is Tiz the Law, which won the Florida Derby and will run in the Belmont, according to his owner.
“In essence, in some ways, the Belmont is going to be the Derby this year,” Sackatoga Stables managing partner Jack Knowlton told horseracingnation.com. “All of the good horses, and anyone who has aspirations of the Triple Crown will be there. Everyone who had what they thought was a Kentucky Derby horse will be a Belmont horse this year.”
⦁ This story is based in part on wire service reports.
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