Belmont

There will indeed be a 2020 version of the Triple Crown, though this time the last shall be first.

The New York Racing Association has announced the $1 million Belmont Stakes (G1) will be contested June 20 at Belmont Park without fans, making it the opening leg of a series that has been shuffled by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Aside from a new date and a reduction from last year’s purse of $1.5 million, the 152nd Belmont Stakes will also be run at a shorter distance of 1 1/8 miles around one turn, according to NYRA’s May 19 statement.

Originally scheduled for June 6 as the final race in the five-week-long Triple Crown chase for 3-year-olds, the Belmont Stakes will kick off a series typically known as the spring classics that will now span 15 weeks from the spring through the fall.

In response to the pandemic, the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1) was shifted from May 2 to Sept. 5 at Churchill Downs and the Preakness Stakes (G1) was pushed back from May 16 to Oct. 3 at Pimlico Race Course.

“The Belmont Stakes is a New York institution that will provide world-class entertainment for sports fans during these challenging times,” said NYRA president & CEO David O’Rourke. “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.”

The Belmont Stakes will be broadcast by NBC Sports during a three-hour program that will begin at 3 p.m. ET.

Churchill Downs had previously announced that the Belmont Stakes would have qualifying points toward a start in the Kentucky Derby attached if the American classic was spotted prior to the Run for the Roses. That criteria calls for the top four finishers in “The Test of the Champion” to receive 150-60-30-15 points.

Even with a new date, the Belmont Stakes figures to attract a quality field. Jack Knowlton, the head of the Sackatoga Stable partnership that owns Tiz the Law, told BloodHorse in a May 18 story that the Curlin Florida Derby (G1) winner is targeting the Belmont Stakes. Trainer Bob Baffert has also said if the Belmont Stakes is held on June 20 he would send a horse to New York, with the undefeated Charlatan being the most likely candidate.

The announcement of the new date on the calendar for the Belmont Stakes comes three days after New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said racetracks in the state can re-open June 1 without fans in attendance. 

NYRA tracks have been closed since March 15, after three days of racing without fans, as New York City and Nassau County, where Aqueduct Racetrack and Belmont Park are located, emerged as an epicenter for the spread of coronavirus.

NYRA is expected to announce a date for the opening of the spring/summer meet at Belmont Park and a full stakes schedule shortly.

Aside from forcing a new order for the Triple Crown races for the first time since 1931, the pandemic also disrupted the schedule of prep races for the classics. Since the March 28 Florida Derby, the lone Kentucky Derby Championship Series races have been the May 2 split divisions of the Arkansas Derby (G1), though last weekend’s return of racing in Kentucky and California has created new opportunities for Triple Crown hopefuls.

Churchill Downs has scheduled the $150,000 Matt Winn Stakes (G3) for May 23 and the 1 1/16-mile stakes at the Louisville track will offer 50-20-10-5 Kentucky Derby qualifying points to the top four finishers. In addition, the Santa Anita Derby (G1) has been moved from April 4 to June 6, when the Belmont Stakes was originally scheduled, and will distribute 100-40-20-10 points.

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