ELMONT — It will be much shorter, a little later … but first in line.
The 152nd Belmont Stakes, originally scheduled for June 6 at Belmont Park, now will be run spectator-free on June 20 at a mile and an eighth, a substantial cutback from its traditional mile and a half distance.
After New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced on Saturday that horse racing may resume, spectator-free, as of June 1, the New York Racing Association (which hasn’t raced since the middle of March) released a stakes schedule on Tuesday for a spring/summer meet that will run from Wednesday, June 3, to Sunday, July 12.
On a racing calendar jumbled by the COVID-19 pandemic, the $1 million Belmont will now serve as the first leg of the Triple Crown, instead of the third, with the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville moved to Sept. 5 and the Preakness at Pimlico in Baltimore on Oct. 3.
Typically, the first Saturday in May is reserved for the Derby, the Preakness is two weeks later and the Belmont is run three more weeks after that.
There has been some variation in the order, distances and even venues for the Triple Crown races, which have all been around since not long after the Civil War, but the current schedule had been in place since 1969. Seven of the 13 horses to have won the Triple Crown did so under a different configuration than the current one.
“The Belmont Stakes is a New York institution that will provide world-class entertainment for sports fans during these challenging times,” NYRA president and CEO Dave O’Rourke said in a 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.”
NBC will present three hours of live Belmont Stakes coverage beginning at 3 p.m. ET on June 20.
The Belmont has been run at a mile and a half since 1926.
It was first run in 1867 at a distance of a mile and five-eighths at Jerome Park, won by the filly Ruthless, and was also run at a mile and an eighth at Morris Park Racecourse in 1893 and 1894.
Traditionalists may bemoan the cutback from a mile and a half this year, but NYRA said it made the move “to properly account for the schedule adjustments to the Triple Crown series and overall calendar for 3-year-olds in training.
One of those 3-year-olds vying for the top of the division is Tiz the Law, owned by the Saratoga Springs-based Sackatoga Stable. His trainer, Barclay Tagg, said after Tiz the Law’s Florida Derby win on March 28 that they would point toward the Belmont, even though it was uncertain at the time when racing would even resume in New York.
This year’s Belmont will fall in the midst of a significantly revamped Kentucky Derby qualifying points schedule.
Two of the races from that series, the Santa Anita Derby (rescheduled for June 6) and Blue Grass at Keeneland (TBD) were postponed from the Derby prep season in early spring.
The others include the Matt Winn on Saturday at Churchill Downs; the Los Alamitos Derby (July 4); the Haskell Invitational (July 18) and Pegasus (Aug. 15) at Monmouth Park; and the Indiana Derby, Shared Belief at Del Mar an Ellis Park Derby, all TBD.
The 2020 Saratoga Race Course meet is still scheduled to begin on July 16 and conclude on Labor Day, Sept. 7, and the new positioning of the Kentucky Derby and Belmont likely will compel NYRA to look at an alternate spot for the Aug. 29 Travers.
No decision has been announced on whether the track would be closed to spectators. As of Tuesday, all Saratoga ticket options were still available for sale online. Full refunds are available for all Belmont Stakes Racing Festival tickets.
The Belmont Stakes purse had been $1.5 million for the last six years, but the drop to $1 million is indicative of a reduced purse structure that relies in part on VLT revenue. That hasn’t been available because of statewide casino closures, including Resorts World Casino at Aqueduct.
“Without the casino operating and without on-track attendance, we’ve had to make significant purse cuts,” NYRA senior VP of racing operations Martin Panza said in the 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 time by writing a rich and varied condition book, offering a daily opportunity for black type [stakes], that will support horsemen at all levels of the game.”
The condensed spring/summer stakes schedule will offer 40 total stakes races worth $7 million. Of those, 22 will be graded stakes, including five others on Belmont Day, the Grade I Acorn, Grade I Jaipur, Grade I Woody Stephens, Grade II Pennine Ridge and Grade III Wonder Again.
July 4 will feature a blockbuster card including the Grade I Met Mile, Grade I Manhattan, Grade II Suburban, Grade III Poker and Grade III Victory Ride.
The Saturday, June 6 card will include the Grade I Carter, Grade II Fort Marcy, Grade III Westchester and Grade III Intercontinental. The Grade I Ogden Phipps will be held on Saturday, June 13.