This year’s Triple Crown series will start, not finish, with the 152nd running of the Belmont Stakes.
NYRA announced on Tuesday a shorter version of the traditional last leg of horse racing’s premier series will be run on June 20, albeit without fans in the giant Belmont Park grandstand in deference to the COVID-19 pandemic.
It will be part of Belmont’s delayed spring/summer meet, which NYRA announced will begin on June 3. The 25-day meet will run through July 12.
“The Belmont Stakes is a New York institution that will provide world-class entertainment for sports fans during these challenging times,” NYRA president and chief executive officer Dave O’Rourke said in a news release. “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.”
This year’s Belmont Stakes, originally scheduled for June 6, will now be a sprinter’s delight at one and one-eighths miles rather than its traditional, stamina-testing one and one-half miles, the only time the thoroughbreds run that distance.
The Kentucky Derby, typically Triple Crown’s first leg, had already been re-scheduled for Sept. 5 at Churchill Downs in Louisville instead of the 146th running taking place on May 2 as originally planned.
On Saturday, which was supposed to be the 145th running of the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Gov. Larry Hogan announced the race is now scheduled for Oct. 3.
It will be the first time in Triple Crown history that the Belmont Stakes will be run first.
Last Friday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced horse racing could resume in New York – without fans in the grandstands – on June 1.
O’Rourke released a statement then applauding Cuomo’s decision.
“This is a reasoned and responsible decision by Governor Cuomo that will enable horse racing to resume in a way that prioritizes health and safety while recognizing that NYRA is the cornerstone of an industry responsible for 19,000 jobs and $3 billion in annual economic impact,” O’Rourke said.
NYRA has not conducted live racing since its winter meet at Aqueduct was halted on March 15.
However, work has continued at Belmont Park.
Around 1,400 horses are currently on the 550-acre property with about 800 backstretch workers – almost 600 who live at Belmont Park – maintaining the training regimens.
Overall, around 1,200 people have been working at Belmont throughout the coronavirus outbreak and NYRA has told Cuomo that the resumption of live racing would add just 60 more workers, including camera operators, race stewards and gate crew.
Belmont Park is closed to non-essential personnel and some common areas on site have been closed to encourage social distancing.
All personnel entering Belmont Park are temperature screened and required to wear masks or other facial covering.
“NYRA has developed a comprehensive safety plan that builds on our experience of operating training safely and responsibly during the pandemic, and includes extensive protocols to keep our community safe,” O’Rourke said.
Triple Crown race schedule for 2020
Belmont Stakes: June 20
Kentucky Derby: Sept. 5
Preakness Stakes: Oct. 3