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A shorter Belmont Stakes will be first leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown this year

Horses break from the starting gate at the beginning of the 2018 Belmont Stakes in Elmont, N.Y.
(Julie Jacobson / Associated Press)

For the first time in history, the Belmont Stakes will be the first leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown. The New York Racing Assn. announced on Tuesday that the race will be held on June 20 at a distance of 1 1/8 miles, rather than the traditional 1½ miles.

The Kentucky Derby has been moved from May 2 to Sept. 5 and the Preakness Stakes from May 16 to Oct. 3. The Belmont, originally scheduled for June 6, will be run without spectators.

The date could prove problematic to horses that were expected to run in the Santa Anita Derby, also 1 1/8 miles, on June 6. While horses can run on two weeks’ rest, trainers prefer to bring horses back after a month without racing, especially if their previous race were taxing. Owners and trainers on the West Coast will likely have to choose between the $400,000 Santa Anita Derby or the $1-million Belmont Stakes.

Santa Anita spokesman Mike Willman said track administrators thought the Belmont Stakes would also be run in June and doesn’t think it will lose any top horses with previous Santa Anita Derby plans.

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“We believe Authentic stays,” Willman said of the likely Santa Anita Derby favorite trained by Bob Baffert.

John Shirreffs, the trainer of contender Honor A.P., said his horse will run in the Santa Anita Derby.

“I think it’s certainly better to support Santa Anita than going somewhere else,” Shirreffs said. “If you have a neighborhood market and all leave, how’s it going to stay in business?”

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New York officials believe their race will remain important for 3-year-olds.

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

The race will be worth qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby, with the winner getting 150 and 60-30-15 will go to the next three finishers. The Santa Anita Derby has a points structure of 100-40-20-10.

Staff writer Eric Sondheimer contributed to this report.


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