US RACING: Shortened Belmont Stakes set for June 20 as Triple Crown opener

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NEW YORK, United States (AFP) – The Belmont Stakes, usually the last and longest leg of US horse racing’s Triple Crown, will be shortened and staged June 20 as the opener of this year’s coronavirus-altered line-up.

The New York Racing Association (NYRA) announced Tuesday that the 152nd edition of the event at Belmont Park will be delayed only two weeks later than its original date before the deadly virus shut down US sports.

“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 Dave O’Rourke said.

No spectators will be allowed to attend the race to satisfy New York health and safety requirements in one of the most world’s largest outbreak areas of COVID-19.

The Belmont Stakes is traditionally staged at 1 1/2 miles but will be contested at only 1 1/8 miles this year, allowing for the training calendar for 3-year-old horses in this virus-hit season and the schedule adjustments in the Triple Crown races.

The usual opener, the 1 1/4-mile Kentucky Derby, was postponed from May 2 to September 5 at Churchill Downs in Louisville and will serve as the middle leg of the treble.

The Preakness, the 1 3/16-mile event usually serving as the middle race of the trio, was postponed from May 16 to October 3 at Pimlico in Baltimore, Maryland, and will now serve as the triple Crown finale.

Belmont is the usual final “Test of The Champion” where Triple Crown sweeps are completed. The most recent came in 2018 when Justify captured all three races, the 13th horse ever to complete the feat.

“The Belmont Stakes is a New York institution that will provide world-class entertainment for sports fans during these challenging times,” O’Rourke said.

“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 was run at 1 1/8 miles in 1983 and 1894, the 1 1/2-mile distance being established in 1926.