Belmont Stakes will be held, with no one in grandstands, on June 20

Normally the third leg of horse racing's Triple Crown, the New York contest will now be first out of the gate.
Image:
Justify with jockey Mike Smith crosses the finish line to win the 150th running of the Belmont Stakes horse race in Elmont, N.Y., on June 9, 2018.Julie Jacobson / AP file

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By David K. Li

The Belmont Stakes, traditionally the third jewel of thoroughbred horse racing's Triple Crown, will run on June 20 — in front of empty grandstands and as the leadoff of the annual series, officials said Tuesday.

The Belmont had originally been set for June 6 just outside of New York City, before the coronavirus pandemic brought virtually all pro sports in North America to an abrupt halt.

The New York Racing Association pushed back its most famous event, but by only two weeks, in stark contrast to the Triple Crown's other two races, the Kentucky Derby in Louisville and Preakness Stakes in Baltimore.

The Derby, which traditionally begins the Triple Crown on the first Saturday in May, is now set for Sept. 5. The Preakness was pushed back to Oct. 3.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Saturday gave the green light to horse racing, with no fans in attendance, to start again as soon as June 1.

In jockeying its event from back of the pack to the front of the line, New York racing officials also cut their annual competition from the traditional 1 1/2 miles to 1 1/8 miles.

“The way it fits in the calendar, it’s a completely different race than the traditional Belmont would be,” New York Racing Association President and CEO Dave O'Rourke said Tuesday.

“I think we’re going to have a big field. I think it’ll be a really competitive field. I think the dynamics of the race are different.”

Justify with jockey Mike Smith crosses the finish line to win the 150th running of the Belmont Stakes horse race in Elmont, N.Y., on June 9, 2018.Julie Jacobson / AP file

The race in Elmont, New York, is known as the "Test of the Champion" because it's the longest of the series — and makes for a most arduous, final hurdle for any would-be Triple Crown winner.

There have been 13 Triple Crown winners, the most recent being Justify in 2018.

Two-time Triple Crown-winning trainer Bob Baffert said he doesn't mind this new, untraditional order of these races.

"I’m just happy we get to run," said Baffert, who has three prized horses regularly mentioned as Triple Crown threats, Charlatan, Nadal and Authentic. “I’m just fortunate that they didn’t cancel any of them. A couple months ago, it didn’t look good."

Associated Press contributed.