HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, September 10, 2023 – A monarch once said that change does not change tradition, it strengthens it, and that change is a challenge that presents an opportunity, not a threat.
And clearly, heeding the advice of another bromide, the New York Racing Association is resolved to effort being a master of change, rather than a victim of it.
In that context, moving the Belmont Stakes to Saratoga to avoid the logistical construction nightmare on Long Island for the next two years makes sense.
So does taking advantage of the Saratoga brand which, despite the star-crossed 2023 racer meet, retains its mind’s-eye magic.
The decision to avoid starting the mile and a half Test of the Champion on the far turn was the right thing to do, but turning it back to a mile and a quarter destroys the concept of a Triple Crown.
The 10-furlong Derby, the 9.5 furlong Preakness and a 10-furlong Belmont to complete the series even gives asterisks a bad name. Such a lineup from a distance perspective is meaningless, rendering the concept of historical perspective pointless.
To preserve the sanctity of a “Champion’s Test,” the proposed distance change should be more like one mile and five furlongs, the race starting on the backstretch.
With a long enough runup to the pole, all horses have a chance to sort themselves out entering the turn. Thereafter, the champion would have to negotiate a marathon distance, not the Derby’s “classic” distance.
Too demanding? Compared to what, certainly not the English Triple Crown, established before ours in 1809?
To sweep the British Crown, the horse must prove himself in the one-mile 2000 Guineas, the 1-1/2 mile Derby, and the St Leger at a mile, 6 furlongs and 127 feet.
In case you missed it, the first two legs this year went to Chaldean and Auguste Rodin just this past weekend.
Making the Upstate Belmont a less challenging 10 furlongs more “horsemen friendly,” helps to fill their event but would put the Belmont–without a date change–in direct competition with the Preakness.
Competition 1 – Cooperation 0.
As most are aware, the Maryland Jockey Club announced earlier this summer that it was seriously considering lengthening the time between the Derby and Preakness to four weeks.
The MJC, like NYRA, wants to make their race more attractive to latter-day horsemen who avoid racing their good stock back on short rest.
This tack has effectively killed the Triple Crown series. The series’ second leg attracts the Triple Crown eligible Derby winner, a handful of also-rans that weren’t cooked in Louisville, and late developers who skipped the Derby or lacked Derby eligibility.
While the NYRA has made no official announcement regarding moving the Belmont Stakes to accommodate the series concept, insiders say the NYRA is not moving its event, Triple Crown or no Triple Crown.
If it’s true that the Belmont will be conducted five weeks post-Derby, per usual, turning back the trip from 12 furlongs to 10, no amount of spin can make this move appear to be in the best interests of Thoroughbred racing.
In a non-related development, the NYRA is completing the construction of a synthetic surface at Belmont and is seriously considering constructing one at Saratoga, presumably eliminating the inner course and widening the Mellon Turf, increasing the number of rail positions.
An All-Weather track in Saratoga would facilitate training, using it for shorter juvenile races and, of course, as an viable off-turf alternative: Rainy weather forced NYRA to reschedule more turf races this summer than it did in the last two years combined.
NYRA President David O’Rourke and Operations Vice-President Glen Kozak are proponents of synthetic surfaces. They are aware of the public’s demand for improved safety for horses and riders.
O’Rourke went on record this summer, stating the safety record of synthetics stands on its own given compelling data.
What kind of commitment will NYRA make to modern-day Thoroughbreds with respect to Triple Crown spacing and renewing the Upstate Belmont at a traditional marathon distance?
Whatever it decides, NYRA must consider that a mile and a quarter Belmont serves neither history nor tradition.