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An unconventional Triple Crown

In a most unusual year, what is traditionally the final leg of the Triple Crown — the Belmont Stakes — will become the opening leg for the very first time in history.

The Belmont Stakes is usually run five weeks after the Kentucky Derby. But with the postponement of the Derby until Sept. 5 and the announcement over the weekend that this year’s Preakness Stakes will be run on Oct. 3, the New York Racing Association announced in a press release on Tuesday that the Belmont Stakes will be held without spectators on June 20.

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As part of the scheduling change, the 152nd Belmont Stakes will be shortened to 1 1/8 miles. The Belmont was run at the 1 1/8-mile distance in 1893-94 when the race was held at Morris Park, but has been contested at the 1 1/2-mile distance since 1926.

“The Belmont Stakes is a New York institution that will provide world-class entertainment for sports fans during these challenging times,” said NYRA president and CEO Dave 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 now offer Kentucky Derby qualifying points. The first four finishers will earn 150-60-30-15 points towards a guaranteed berth in the Derby.

Two important three-year-old races could be impacted by the Belmont Stakes announcement. The Santa Anita Derby is scheduled for June 6, which would make for just a two-week turnaround to the Belmont. Keeneland is in discussions with other Kentucky tracks trying to secure dates for a short summer meet after being forced to cancel its spring meet due to the coronavirus. The weekend of July 10-12 could be in play for the Blue Grass Stakes.

Saturday's announcement by Maryland Governor Larry Hogan that the postponed 145th Preakness will be held Oct. 3 at Pimlico Race Course is also big. The Preakness now becomes the final leg of the Triple Crown instead of the usual second leg.

The new date is also four weeks after the Kentucky Derby instead of the normal two weeks. And it falls on a day when Notre Dame (also an NBC broadcast partner) has an evening college football game.

No reference was made whether the Preakness Stakes will be held under spectator-free conditions, though InfieldFest, a concert traditionally held in the Pimlico infield on Preakness Day, was canceled earlier this year.

Dysfunction returns

Horseplayers welcomed the return of Santa Anita, Golden Gate Fields and the opening of Churchill Downs last weekend. Unfortunately, the dysfunctional nature of the horse racing business also returned.

Negotiations between Churchill Downs and the horse racing network TVG reached an impasse, so Churchill Downs races are not being shown on TVG. Churchill also does not have an agreement with the Las Vegas Dissemination Company to broadcast and take wagers on their races when the racebooks reopen in Nevada. 

Churchill was able to call an audible and strike a deal with the FS1 and FS2 networks to broadcast their races. 

On Saturday, even with limited tracks running, Stronach Group tracks Gulfstream Park and Golden Gate Fields managed to run races right on top of each other. On Sunday, a Gulfstream Park race started some 15 minutes after their scheduled post time and managed to run right on top of the second race at Santa Anita. Once again, both tracks are owned by Stronach.

It won’t be long before other sports are up and running and sports wagering resumes. Isn’t it in the best interests of horse racing to work together to make watching and wagering on its product as easy and enjoyable as possible for its core audience? If not now, when?

Lindo Report Play for Gaming Today: Santa Anita Friday, Race 8: Tizamagician (No. 7). Three-year-old faces elders in this 1-mile allowance optional claiming event after traveling to Dubai and back for the canceled UAE Derby. Late developer may still have time to get on the Kentucky Derby trail. Is he using this as a prep for the June 6 Santa Anita Derby?