The Triple Crown season has been turned upside down, in a way, in 2020. The order of the three-race series has been altered by date changes, as well as a major distance cutback for the June 20 Belmont (G1).
Here are some things to consider for the adjusted 2020 Belmont:
We have been blessed to have witnessed 13 Triple Crown heroes to this point, but it must be noted that 23 other sophomores were victorious in the Kentucky Derby (G1) and Preakness (G1) before failing to compete the sweep with an historic win in Elmont, New York. The reasons for this vary, but one major factor is distance.
The Belmont is generally contested at 1 1/2 miles, a rarely used distance in North American dirt racing. And, asking a 3-year-old to grind out 12 panels over “Big Sandy” while carrying 126 pounds is no easy task.
With the shortened trip this campaign, the entire nature of the race takes a new shape.
The Belmont is commonly referred to as the “Test of the Champion” for the daunting task it presents. When run as the final leg of the Triple Crown, the Belmont is the culmination of a three-race series over a five-week period. The short time span can exact a heavy toll.
In 2020, the Belmont will commence the Triple Crown series, a monumental shift from years past. Instead of receiving some time off afterwards, serious Belmont contenders will be entering the race relatively fresh for a change.
One-turn versus two turns
Races run at 1 1/8 miles are simply never contested going one-turn in the U.S. The dynamic of the 9-furlong Belmont will give each contender a fair shake, with the race beginning out of the chute on the backside, and contestants will have a half-mile straight to travel prior to making the sweeping turn for home.
When contested at 1 1/2 miles, the Belmont has a much shorter run into the first turn, one that can compromise a horse who starts poorly. That shouldn’t be an issue at the 1 1/8-mile distance.
Often lost when contemplating which Belmont entrant a handicapper should side with is the jockey riding your horse. The stretch run at Belmont Park covers 1,097 feet, not the largest in America, but it’s the run on the backside that often causes pilots who are unfamiliar to the surroundings to mistime their rides.
The 1 1/2-mile circumference of Big Sandy is unlike any other course in the states. I give a big edge to jocks that are either based in the Empire State, or that have extensive Belmont Park experience, when the race is contested at its traditional distance.
I have never claimed to be a horseman, but the training patterns in getting a 3-year-old ready for the Belmont in the past, compared to this year, must be quite different. To prep a horse to run 1 1/2 miles in early June versus 9 furlongs in late June, presents a different challenge. While I often gave an edge to experienced conditioners who had success getting their sophomores ready for the 1 1/2-mile trip, I think the door is wide-open for all trainers in 2020.