Anyone with a three-digit IQ understands that life will never be the same again. But with Saturday’s announcements that Belmont Park will open June 4 and Preakness 145 will be held on October 3, for racetrackers and fans, this may not be as good as it gets but it’s a huge step forward.
Given permission by Governor Andrew Cuomo to race spectatorless beginning Monday June 1, the New York Racing Association announced that June 4 is start-up day. Thursdays normally begin a NYRA four-day race week.
This is a missed opportunity to own a Monday when “Belmont opening day” handle might have reached $20 million. Thursday will still do well because . all returning tracks have drawn huge fields. But why compete with other major venues?
It’s too early and unreasonable to expect that a stakes schedule will be immediately forthcoming. Still undecided, even if the Saratoga main and training tracks are permitted to open June 1, is whether there will be racing at the Spa, likely without fans.
Racing Vice-President Martin Panza has quietly told several horsemen that he wants to race at Saratoga but that might not be a unilateral decision. It also could mean that he’s simply trying to keep the horsemen closer.
To spectator or not to spectator, that is the question and a Saratoga deal maker or breaker. The ultimate decision is likely to be determined by the state of the virus, the Saratoga Chamber of Commerce, and the state of the state.
Will the Belmont stakes schedule be downsized owing to a truncated spring/summer meet? Could some traditionally historic NYRA stakes, moved from Belmont to Saratoga several years ago, return to Long Island? Taking the temperature of horsemen, literally and figuratively, is strongly advised.
The most significant question, however, is when to run Belmont Park’s signature event, and at what distance. Now that the Preakness is set for the first Saturday in October, one month after the Derby, so much for tradition. Or, as Bukowski might say, “asterisks for all my friends.”
But given the physical state of today’s Thoroughbred, vis a vis breeding, training methodology and dehydrating Lasix cocktails, shouldn’t the industry, forced by Mother Nature to adapt, catch up to 21st Century racing reality?
Further, wouldn’t a monthly schedule put into practice the popular politically correct cliché one often hears from horsemen; “doing what’s best for the horse?” If Saratoga runs on schedule, a July 18 Belmont would be seven weeks before the Derby.
The question then becomes do you point for the first classic, or prep for the Derby in the Haskell or Travers on either AUG 1 or AUG 8? Just know that until Breeders’ Cup, scheduling chaos will reign. What if Keeneland gets the Ellis dates and race in July? Add the Blue Grass to the adjusted prep mix.
Since the Belmont will suffer from *2020 Triple Crown timetabling, running it at a mile and a half is impractical. With training and racing schedules seriously altered, classics horses have been forced into a holding pattern, making the distance unattractive for lack of competitive, seasonal conditioning.
Turning back from speed-dulling routes is difficult because of altered pace dynamics and is future-form compromising. Horsemen are highly unlikely to support a 12-furlong classic right out of the box.
We’re not suggesting that Bob Baffert’s posit of running the Belmont at a mile and an eighth Belmont should be taken seriously, but 9-1/2 or 10- furlong Belmont at least maintains some endurance integrity.
Two questions remain: Given that the Belmont will precede the Derby, it would qualify as Derby point qualifiers. Should it be a 100-pointer, or more since it’s a classic? Of greater import, how does it affect the game nationally? The historic Haskell immediately comes to mind.
Like opening up the country to business, there are no easy answers. And one last notion might be most significant and beyond control: What if Covid-19 returns with a vengeance in the fall? No one wants to experience it, but a spectatorless Derby and Preakness cannot be ruled out.
Not an Important Saturday, but a Champion Returns
Monomoy Girl, three-year-filly champion of 2018, made a successful return from a 560-day layup. She didn’t win impressively in the classic sense but she won very well under trying circumstances.
Breaking from the inside in a one-turn mile over a wet Churchill Downs surface, Florent Geroux was in maneuver mood early—don’t get trapped inside or bottled up between horses—and did a great job under the circumstances.
Indeed, she was trapped in behind and between rivals at midturn but Geroux found a seem, tipped her out, she showed her class, and was shown the whip, and she responded, ridden out and won with her ears pricking, a very professional effort and a good effort to build on.
At Gulfstream Park, Green Light Go made a good, albeit losing return, finishing second to upwardly mobile Double Crown. Making his first start with Lasix, he was fresh but not sharp, showing class and heart, re-rallying inside the final furlong after getting ping-ponged, putting his rival to the test. It appeared a good race to build on and is officially out of excuses.
While it was a narrow victory, to beat males in your second lifetime start from well off the pace after having broken maiden on the engine in debut is most unusual and an indication of high class.
And the handling that Big Sweep got from Flavien Prat was masterful and strong, snatching victory from defeat in the final stride to win the Echo Eddie sprint for Cal-breds at Santa Anita Park. All three races are worthy of video review.