For the first time in history, the Belmont Stakes will be the opening leg of the Triple Crown, as New York Racing Association officials announced on Tuesday that the 152nd running will be held on Saturday, June 20 without fans in the stands.
The Kentucky Derby, meanwhile, will be held on Sept. 5, and the Preakness Stakes will be held on Oct. 3.
This year’s Stakes will also differ from prior years because it will be shorter. Traditionally, horses run 1 1/2 miles on the track, but this year they will only run 1 1/8 miles, to account for the scheduled adjustments to the Triple Crown.
“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,” NYRA President David O’Rourke said in a statement. “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 stream coverage on Belmont Stakes day for three hours beginning at 3 p.m. on June 20.
Anyone who purchased tickets for the Belmont Stakes Racing Festival can get a refund. Those who purchase tickets directly from the NYRA Box Office or a NYRA sales representative can request a refund online, and fans who purchased tickets on Ticketmaster will receive an email directing them to log into their account to request a refund.
The news comes after Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced on May 16 that NYRA officials can begin live horse racing on June 1 without fans.
The association had been preparing to reopen safely. Its Covid-19 Preparedness and Response Plan Committee — comprising NYRA staff members, representatives from the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, the Backstretch Employee Service Team and the New York Race Track Chaplaincy of America — had implemented daily temperature checks at the park and mandated that employees wear masks and gloves and maintain social distancing.
Additionally, NYRA officials announced on May 15 they had partnered with Northwell Health to secure coronavirus antibody tests for NYRA employees and backstretch workers at Belmont Park. Northwell personnel would administer the tests, and would communicate the results within two days.
“This broad testing program will provide additional insight, allowing us to more fully understand how Covid-19 has impacted our community,” O’Rourke said. “Going forward, this is a positive step in NYRA’s overall testing program, as we work toward our goal of providing universal access to both diagnostic testing and antibody testing.”
In a statement on its website in April, NYRA officials also wrote that they “are committed to taking every step possible to keep our communities safe, while providing entertainment and contributing to the New York economy as we collectively begin the return to a new normal.”
Editor's Note: Do you regularly attend the Belmont Stakes and must watch from home this year? Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.