How Will The Triple Crown Be Awarded In 2020?

As the novel coronavirus pandemic spread across the world, sport was put on hiatus, only returning in formats adapted to minimize the risk of spread and almost always without a crowd present. While the nature of horse racing means there is minimal contact between jockeys as they ride horses that cannot spread the virus, thoroughbred racing in the United States was nonetheless impacted by the pandemic. Racing’s prestigious Triple Crown saw two of its three legs delayed, with the Belmont Stakes opening the competition for the first time in award’s history and no winner being determined until October, per America’s Best Racing.

While it is taking off at its normal time, this year’s edition of the Belmont Stakes will look quite different from those that preceded it. Along with the lack of an audience, the 2020 Belmont Stakes will be shorter than its usual editions, with the course now only a mile-and-an-eighth. This is the first time since 1926 that the Belmont Stakes — called the “Test of the Champion” because of its distance — has not been its usual mile-and-a-half. While this will be an unusual Belmont Stakes, it’s only a minor adjustment considering the shifts taken in thoroughbred racing to ensure that a Triple Crown can take place.

The competition’s usual first leg, The Kentucky Derby, was pushed back to September 5, 2020, from its original date of May 2. The Triple Crown’s other traditional May race, the Preakness Stakes, was also pushed back and will potentially see the first winner of the prestigious title crowned on October 3. This stretches the usual five-week window of the Triple Crown to fifteen weeks, forcing racing teams to balance the advantage of added rest with the potential risk of losing form.

These timeline shifts will see the usual springtime event kick off on the first day of summer. This is likely to impact the Kentucky Derby the most, as its usual mild May weather potentially replaced with hot and humid summer weather during the Labor Day weekend event. It’s not ideal for attendees, but that may not matter as it has yet to be determined if there will be an audience at all. While the Belmont Stakes is going ahead without crowds, the risk of COVID-19 spread will determine what the stands of the Triple Crown’s final two legs will look like. While it’s unlikely that a silent race will have much impact on the horses competing, it could add a unique wrinkle for jockeys and trainers.

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