The status of the Belmont Stakes remains up in the air while the New York Racing Association has grounded racing at Belmont Park. The organization delayed the spring/summer meet due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Belmont Park Postponement
Belmont Park postponed the opening of its spring/summer meet to an undetermined date. The Belmont Stakes remains set for June 6, but for how long? (Image: Getty)

Belmont Park’s meet was to last 51 days, running from April 24 through July 12. From there, New York racing traditionally segues to Saratoga for a summer meet that begins June 16 and runs through Labor Day. That meet tentatively remains on the schedule.

In the wake of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s announcement that all non-essential businesses and workers in the state must stay home through May 15, NYRA did not specify a return date.

As for the Belmont Stakes, the third jewel in American horse racing’s Triple Crown and the crown jewel of Belmont’s spring/summer meet, it remains on the schedule for June 6. Most, however, expect the date for the 152nd running of the 1 ½-mile test to be pushed back.

“The Belmont Stakes is a New York institution and American tradition,” NYRA CEO and President Dave O’Rourke said in a release. “We are committed to running the race in 2020 and aim to deliver an announcement in the very near future.”

Moving Race a Possibility

The Belmont Stakes hasn’t left Belmont Park in 53 years. NYRA moved the race to Aqueduct Park from 1963-67 during renovations to Belmont Park. Moving the race upstate to Saratoga is an option, especially preceding the Kentucky Derby when a Triple Crown possibility won’t overwhelm the small town. Last month, Churchill Downs officials moved the Derby from May 2 to Sept. 5.

Dating to 1867, the Belmont Stakes is the oldest of the three Triple Crown races. It predates the Preakness Stakes by six years and the Kentucky Derby by eight. The Belmont Stakes has run every year since 1867, save two. In 1911 and 1912, an anti-gambling law in New York shelved the race.

NYRA also announced that, beginning today, trainers who previously stabled at Belmont may ship in horses relocated during the coronavirus crisis, with approval from the NYRA. Only previous Belmont staff, in accordance with health department guidelines, may accompany the shippers.

NY Coronavirus Numbers are Staggering

New York remains the US epicenter for the disease. As of early Friday morning, the state reported 222,284 cases of Coronavirus, with 14,636 deaths from COVID-19. The death numbers represent more than 42% of the total COVID-19 death total reported in the US, and more than 10% of the world’s fatality count.

Those somber numbers explain why in the racing world, Belmont and Aqueduct remain the tracks most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. At least 20 Belmont backstretch workers have tested positive for COVID-19, and one – Martin Zapata, who worked for trainer Tom Morley – has died.

Belmont remains home to 585 backstretch workers. Like many of their brethren at closed tracks around the country, these stablehands live on a quarantined island, closed to all but themselves and Belmont-based trainers.

NYRA shut down racing at Aqueduct March 15 after the first Belmont backstretch worker tested positive. It previously canceled Aqueduct’s 17-day spring meet, which was set to end Sunday. That track is now an emergency COVID-19 hospital.

“We are working closely with the New York State Gaming Commission and public health officials to determine a timeline for the resumption of live racing at Belmont Park,” O’Rourke said. “The health and safety of our racing community is paramount, and any decisions or necessary adjustments to the racing schedule and operations must reflect that priority.”