NOTE: This post was originally written before The New York Racing Association announced The Belmont Stakes would be run on June 20 at 1 1/8 Miles. It is updated to reflect on things outside racing that have happened since the original post.
On May 16, the original date of the Preakness, officials with the Maryland Jockey Club that runs Pimlico and Laurel for The Stronach Group announced the Preakness would be run on October 3:
This had actually been reported “erroneously” 10 days earlier on May 6, but was considered the likely date in order to best possibly have it with fans and find a broadcast window on NBC. While many traditionalists wanted it run Sept. 19 with the Belmont October 10 leading into the Breeders’ Cup November 6-7 at Keeneland, that was impossible because of one thing: Notre Dame Football.
Notre Dame hosts Western Michigan on September 19, a game that is very important to Western Michigan and the Mid-American Conference from a financial standpoint given the MAC recently had to cut postseason tournaments in many sports, either in size or altogether due to financial issues caused by the Pandemic. Western Michigan and the MAC likely refused to allow that game to be moved to NBCSN so NBC could televise the Preakness and likewise Notre Dame likely refused to change the start time of that game to after the Preakness at 6:00 or 7:00 PM Eastern Time because many of their alumni are older and hate going to night games. The following Saturday (Sept. 26) was out because the Ryder Cup, a bi-annual competition between teams from the US and Europe was as of now still scheduled to take place the weekend of Sept. 26-27 in Wisconsin on NBC. That left Oct. 3 as the best option for the Preakness.
What does this mean for The Belmont (again, this was written before NYRA announced it would be run on June 20 at 1 1/8 Miles)? Assuming the Breeders’ Cup remains November 6-7, this gives NYRA the following options for the BC, none of which are good:
1. Run The Belmont before the Saratoga meet, either at its traditional 1 1/2 Mile distance or shorter as has already been suggested.
2. Run the Belmont DURING the Saratoga meet in place of the Travers, again either at its traditional 1 1/2 Mile distance or shorter.
3. Run the Belmont AFTER the Breeders’ Cup on most likely December 5 at Aqueduct or Belmont at its traditional 1 1/2 Mile distance. While 1 1/2 Mile races at Aqueduct would start on the far turn, The Belmont Stakes actually WAS run that way at Aqueduct from 1963-’67.
Of those options, Dec. 5 looms to be the best option because it likely would be when NYRA could have fans, however, there is another option that I think needs to be seriously looked at that may very well prove to be the best option for everyone that has NOTHING to do with attempting to preserve the Triple Crown as it is run traditionally for this year (though that would be a side benefit), but something that is far bigger than the Sport of Kings or ALL of sports for that matter:
Two years ago, I wrote that the 2020 Breeders’ Cup should have been awarded to Del Mar with the BC pushed back to Thanksgiving Weekend. That had to do specifically with the 2020 Presidential Election, which even at that time was already looking to be the most intense election in US history. The Breeders’ Cup being a few days after that looked like it would be safe from dealing with the bulk of the immediate aftermath of that election on November 6-7 though in 2016, it took for many two full weeks (or until Thanksgiving) to fully recover from the intensity of that election and Donald Trump winning the Presidency. Then the COVID-19 Pandemic came in and has literally changed for many how they will cast their ballots for President in 2020 that adds an entire new layer to the election.
With vote-by-mail expected to be much more widely used for the 2020 election by many states, in some cases exclusively where it has not been before, it could result in delays in getting vote tallies in order. That in turn could delay the result of the Presidential Election being known until at least the current weekend of The Breeders’ Cup, something neither Keeneland nor Breeders’ Cup, Ltd. signed up for when the BC was scheduled as it was for 2020. If that does happen, it could be a disaster for BC Ltd. and Keeneland for things they would have ZERO control over, especially the emotions of those who supported the candidate that LOSES the 2020 Presidential Election. There are many who think things could get VERY UGLY in the streets in the immediate period after the election results are known regardless of who wins. This is something BC Ltd. never had to consider even being possible before the Pandemic fully hit in March.
With that in mind, it is now likely in the best interests of EVERYONE in the sport if the Breeders’ Cup is moved back one month to the weekend of December 4-5. Obviously, that is NOT an ideal weather situation for Keeneland that is not designed for winter weather (it usually races in early-to-mid spring and early-to-mid-fall), but it is now likely the lesser evil for Keeneland as Lexington could be dealing with fallout from the election during the Breeders’ Cup no one could have realistically anticipated when it was awarded to Keeneland. Having it a month later after everyone has had time to absorb the election result probably works better.
Such a move would have one major side benefit, allowing The New York Racing Association and the sport to preserve to some degree the traditional version of the Triple Crown with The Belmont Stakes on October 24, 31 or November 7 depending on whether or not NBC can convince Notre Dame to change the start time of its October 31 game against Duke to most likely a 7:00 PM Eastern Time kickoff OR move the game to NBCSN. Unlike with Western Michigan, Duke is a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference that Notre Dame also competes in as a member in all sports except football (Notre Dame plays five football games against ACC opponents each year as part of it’s deal to be a member for other sports). As the ACC has plenty of full-national telecasts, this would not be nearly as important as is the case for the MAC to be on NBCm so Duke might be so inclined to allow the game to be moved to NBCSN. Otherwise, October 24, which would have the Belmont Stakes three weeks after the Preakness as it normally would be would likely become the date and even possibly allow for one final prep before the Breeders’ Cup for horses racing in the Belmont on November 14 if the Breeders’ Cup were December 4-5.
For all involved in the sport, this is what I would now be looking at doing in light of a slew of things that have nothing to do with Horse Racing or sports at all for that matter but nonetheless something Breeders’ Cup, Ltd. should have considered looking at even before the Preakness date was announced. In light of what has since happened after this post originally was written with the protests and rioting that have taken place in the death of George Floyd (one that were it not for the Pandemic that already postponed the Belmont Stakes would have now resulted in such given curfews in place in New York City for the rest of the original Belmont Stakes week), Breeders’ Cup, Ltd. needs to take a serious look at getting the Breeders’ Cup moved back to either Thanksgiving weekend or the weekend after as with the political climate being what it is, even before the rioting and protests many had already been predicting the immediate period after the election results are known would be very ugly no matter who won. This reinforces that view.