COVID-19 Bumps Belmont from Last to First for the 2020 Triple Crown Races

Posted on: May 19, 2020, 09:47h. 

Last updated on: May 20, 2020, 10:55h.

COVID-19 has turned the sporting world upside down in 2020, and that includes horse racing’s Triple Crown. On Tuesday, the New York Racing Association (NYRA) announced the Belmont Stakes, historically the anchor leg of the series of classic races for 3-year-old thoroughbreds, will run on June 20.

Belmont horse racing
Sir Winston races to victory in the 2019 Belmont Stakes at New York’s Belmont Park. This year’s race will take place on June 20 and serve as the first Triple Crown race of 2020. (Image: Getty Images)

With the Kentucky Derby set for Sept. 5 and the Preakness moved to Oct. 3 because of the coronavirus, that means the Belmont will run first this year. That’s not the only change, either.

In addition to being first, the NYRA also revealed that this year’s Belmont will run at 1-1/8 miles, compared to the traditional 1-1/2-mile distance that’s given it the “Test of a Champion” nickname. So, in addition to being first, the Belmont will also go from the longest Triple Crown race to the shortest

In an interview with the Daily Racing Form, NYRA President and CEO Dave O’Rourke justified the change, noting that the race occurs before the Kentucky Derby. While the Derby is a 1-1/4-mile race, most prep races for it are not run at that distance. The NYRA opted to shorten the race because it would have been too much to ask for horses, many of whom haven’t even raced at a 1-1/4 miles, the Kentucky Derby’s distance.

This will be the year everything goes out the window,” O’Rourke said. “If there is ever a time to do something different, it’s this year.”

Still, the changes did not go over well with many racing fans and even some horsemen.

“Triple Crown*,” tweeted trainer Graham Motion, who won the 2011 Kentucky Derby with Animal Kingdom. The asterisk in the tweet signifies the feeling, by some, that winning the Triple Crown this year would not be considered the same historic achievement.

Big Names Expected, Large Field Possible

Because the Belmont will take place before the Kentucky Derby, it will, technically, serve as a Derby prep, with 150 qualifying points going to the winner.

However, because of its status as a Triple Crown race, it’s still likely to attract several of the top 3-year-olds who have already sewn up spots in the Derby. Florida Derby winner Tiz the Law is likely headed to New York, and a pair of Bob Baffert’s top prospects, Authentic and Nadal, may head there.

NYRA will accept up to 16 horses for the field, and if it does draw that many, it would make it the largest field in the race’s history. A large field would also likely spur more betting interest, as quality horses would be available at attractive odds in parimutuel betting.

Casino Closure Leads to Purse Cuts

Belmont Park will officially start racing on June 3, the NYRA also announced. Just like other tracks where racing is currently taking place, the Long Island track will race without fans. That includes the Belmont Stakes.

Even with the number of race days cut – Belmont was supposed to start racing on April 24 – NYRA has had to make adjustments to purses for the Belmont meet. That includes the namesake race, which had a $1.5 million purse last year. This year’s running will be for a $1 million purse.

Besides being able to draw income from fans in the stands, the lack of casino gaming has also put a dent in the NYRA’s coffers. Resorts World Casino at NYRA’s Aqueduct has been closed for two months because of the coronavirus.

“Without the casino operating and without on-track attendance, we’ve had to make significant purse cuts,” said NYRA Senior Vice President of Racing Operations Martin Panza in a release. “The purse cuts to the stakes schedule are much more dramatic than the overnight schedule, and we’ve tried to help the everyday horsemen as much as possible through these trying times by writing a rich and varied condition book, offering a daily opportunity for black type, that will support horsemen at all levels of the game.”

The Belmont meet will end on July 12, as the NYRA will bring racing upstate to Saratoga for the traditional summer meet.