On the day the Preakness Stakes would normally run, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced the 2020 race’s new date of Oct. 3 – a move made necessary by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Preakness Stakes Gate 2018
The starting gate for the 2020 Preakness Stakes opens Oct. 3 instead of May 16. Because of the coronavirus, the second jewel of the Triple Crown runs outside May for the first time in 75 years. (Image: Emma Patti Harris/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire)

That puts the 1 3/16-mile Preakness, the shortest of the Triple Crown events, four weeks after the Kentucky Derby. Normally, it runs two weeks after the Derby, but this year’s new date means the race will likely become the third leg of the Triple Crown.

With the announcement made at the end of NBC’s rebroadcast of American Pharoah’s 2015 Preakness victory on Saturday afternoon, the Belmont Stakes is now the only remaining Triple Crown jewel needing a new date. Earlier on Saturday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo gave the green light to spectator-free racing in his state, beginning as soon as June 1.

Originally scheduled June 6, the Belmont Stakes remains in limbo as the New York Racing Association fleshes out its spring/summer meet schedule. There’s a good chance the Belmont will become the first leg of this year’s Triple Crown because a month after the Preakness, the Breeders’ Cup is set to run at Keeneland.

We’ve Seen This Before — 89 Years Ago

While unusual, the Belmont has run before the Preakness 11 times before 1931.

As for the 2020 Preakness, Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore actually scooped NBC an hour before its announcement. Track personnel updated the website, announcing tickets on sale for the new Oct. 3 date.

It wasn’t the only scoop concerning a new Preakness date. WBAL-TV, NBC’s Baltimore affiliate, originally broke the story on May 6 that NBC reserved time on Oct. 3. That sent The Stronach Group, which owns Pimlico, scrambling to refute the story. WBAL hedged its story less than 90 minutes after posting it online.

Maryland Racing Remains a Work in Progress

Work remains to be done on the Maryland racing front. Hogan lifted the state’s stay-at-home order on Friday, meaning racing could start at Pimlico as early as May 22, according to the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association. The Black Eyed Susan Stakes, a Grade 2 for fillies and mares that normally runs the day before the Preakness, still needs a new date.

“Under normal circumstances, I would be standing at Pimlico with (Belinda Stronach, chairman and president of The Stronach Group), presenting the Woodlawn Trophy to the winner of the 145th Preakness Stakes,” Hogan said during the broadcast. “But as we all know, these are not ordinary circumstances.”

These unordinary circumstances are affecting the Preakness for the first time since 1945, when it ran on June 16. That was one week after the rescheduled Kentucky Derby. Both races ran outside of their customary dates because of World War II restrictions on wire services, gas, rubber, and unnecessary railroad trips. Plus, government officials thought Americans should be buying war bonds, not betting tickets at the track.

Are We In for Another Polynesian-Style Upset?

At 12/1, Polynesian scored an upset in that 1945 Preakness, beating Derby winner Hoop Jr. by 2 ½ lengths. Polynesian would later sire the great Native Dancer, who won the 1953 Preakness. With that, Polynesian became one of eight Preakness winners to sire another Preakness champion.

Dating to 1873, the Preakness predates the Derby by two years. In 1917 and 1922, both races went off on the same day.