Nine-Furlong Belmont To Be Run June 20

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Belmont Stakes | Adam Mooshian

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What has traditionally been the final leg of the Triple Crown will now be the first. The GI Belmont Stakes will be run June 20 at the distance of a mile and an eighth, NYRA announced Tuesday.

In a year where the coronavirus has caused tracks across the country to scramble and adjust their racing calendars and stakes schedules, the Triple Crown, in order, will now consist of the June 20 Belmont, the GI Kentucky Derby Sept. 5 and the GI Preakness Oct. 3.

“The Belmont Stakes is a New York institution that will provide world-class entertainment for sports fans during these challenging times,” NYRA President & 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.”

The distance of the race was not the only change. The purse has been cut from $1.5 million to $1 million and it will take place in front of an empty grandstand.

NYRA confirmed that the race will be shown on NBC, as part of a three-hour telecast.

With the timing and distance of the race and with some trainers likely to prioritize the Kentucky Derby, it remains to be seen what the Belmont lineup will look like. But at least one trainer is ready to embrace the race, as Bob Baffert said he will likely point two of his undefeated stars, Charlatan (Speightstown) and Nadal (Blame), to the Belmont.

“Depending on how they are training, I will have Nadal and Charlatan for the race,” Baffert said. “I backed off both a little bit but am starting back up now. I am just glad they are having the Belmont. I would have preferred they have it after the Preakness to keep the tradition, but they will all be very exciting races.”

Baffert is pointing his other 3-year-old star, Authentic (Into Mischief, to the June 6 GI Santa Anita Derby.

Barclay Tagg, the trainer of GI Florida Derby winner Tiz the Law (Constitution), said he would have preferred the Belmont stay at 12 furlongs but is nonetheless pointing for the race.

“Yes, we are planning on running, but I don’t particularly like the mile and an eighth,” Tagg said. “I think they should have kept it longer, at least at a mile and a quarter. It’s supposed to be a classic. I guess they are doing that to bring more horses in. The dates, there’s nothing you can do about that. You can complain about dates all you want but there are so many things going into dates this year you can’t blame anybody for where they are running their races. But it’s a shame they had to change the order of the Triple Crown races around.”

Trainer Patrick Biancone said he plans on running Sole Volante (Karakontie {Jpn}) in the Belmont, but not his other top 3-year-old, Ete Indien (Summer Front).

“With the circumstances this year, we need to start somewhere,” Biancone said. “I was expecting the race would be run in the middle or end of June, so I’ve programmed it so that Sole Volante will be ready for the Belmont. When it comes to the tradition of these races, there’s nothing anybody can do about that. This virus has killed so many people, the impact of racing is minimal compared to what is going on in the world.”

Any chance that the Belmont would be run in the fall and in the traditional Triple Crown order all but ended when the Maryland Jockey Club announced Saturday that the Preakness would be held Oct. 3, a month after the Derby. With the Breeders’ Cup set for Nov. 6-7, squeezing the Belmont into a date in October would have likely meant a diminished field with the trainers of many top horses choosing the GI Breeders’ Cup Classic over the Belmont.

“With this whole pandemic situation, this year is a whole new world,” said NYRA Senior Vice President, Racing Operations, Martin Panza. “Churchill moved the Derby to Sept. 5 and none of us really knew that was happening until a few hours before it was announced. That didn’t really leave people with a whole lot of options.”

The June date also allows NYRA to fit in the GI Travers S. between the Belmont and the Kentucky Derby in a spot where horsemen should have enough time to make all four races. The Travers is usually run on the second to last Saturday of the Saratoga meet, which, this year, would be Aug. 29. NYRA has not announced its 2020 Saratoga stakes schedule yet, but is expected to move the date of the Travers so as not to conflict with the Derby.

Panza said the race was shortened because the timing of the Belmont didn’t make it conducive to running it a mile and a half.

“I am a true believer in long-distance races,” he said. “The Belmont will return next year at a mile and a half. It pains me to shorten races, but for this year everyone is making things up on the fly and trying to add some continuity to stakes schedules, so this seemed like the right thing to do. On June 20, it didn’t make any sense to run a mile-and-a-half race. Not this year. A mile and a quarter was considered, but the last time a lot of these horses will have run was in the Arkansas Derby back in the beginning of May. There haven’t been a whole lot of prep opportunities for people, so we thought that was a big ask for people to have their horses ready to run at a mile and a half.”

Early on its history, The Belmont was run at a number of different distances, but has been at a mile and a half every year since 1925, when it was contested at a mile and three eighths. The current order of the Triple Crown races dates back to 1933. Prior to that, the Preakness was often run before the Derby and on some occasions on the same day. Gallant Fox, the 1930 Triple Crown winner, kicked off his Triple Crown campaign in the Preakness and then came back eight days later to win the Derby.

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