June 15, 2020

The Uncommon Triple Crown

A contemporary watercolor interpretation of William C. Robertson's 1868 historic print "The False Start" features the grandstand of Jerome Park in New York in the background. Jerome Park, no longer in existence, was the first site of the Belmont Stakes in 1868.

As everyone knows by now, thanks to the global pandemic that has plagued much of the world, this is a year like no other when it comes to traditional sports. That includes the oldest organized sport conducted in the US: Thoroughbred horse racing, which dates back more than 300 years in the Colonies.

Racing's renowned Triple Crown, a concept focusing on 3-year-olds running "classic" distances between 1 3/16 miles to 1 1/2 miles, was established relatively recently (in the early 20th century vs. the 18th century).

In the modern era, the Triple Crown consists of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, in early May; the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Maryland two weeks later in mid-May, and the Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York, on Long Island, three weeks after the Preakness. Held over a span of five weeks, the Triple Crown culminates with the Belmont Stakes. At 1 1/2 miles, it is the longest of the three races and is often referred to as the "true test of the champion." While there are longer races on the annual racing calendar in the US, the Belmont typically is the only one 3-year-old horses of either gender is likely to run and few of them ever race that far again in their careers.

Thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, racing was interrupted in most areas of the country for several months this spring, functionally eliminating many of the usual prep races that owners and trainers use to prepare and qualify their promising young horses for the Triple Crown races. As a result, racing was postponed at all three of the race courses that host each of the respective Triple Crown races.

The first to reschedule was Churchill Downs, which postponed the 1 1/4-miles Kentucky Derby from the first Saturday in May until September 5. Pimlico indicated they, too, would be postponing the 1 3/16 miles of the Preakness Stakes from mid-May to October 3. The Belmont Stakes subsequently was rescheduled for Saturday, June 20, instead of a week earlier, and it will be run at a reduced distance of 1 1/8 miles instead of its traditional 1 1/2 miles. So the Triple Crown race that usually occurs last and the longest in the sequence shall be first this year and will be the shortest this year only.  

In the meantime, a number of promising candidates for one or more of these races have fallen by the wayside due to minor injury or more serious ones that have ended their racing careers. One gets the sense that this year's Triple Crown will be like no other and it's anyone's guess which horses will emerge as the top three-year-olds in this very odd year of 2020.

Tune in and watch on June 20 to see how things will shake out at the Belmont Stakes and which other contenders might also move forward to the other two legs of the Triple Crown when they do occur in late summer and early fall.

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