Make the Belmont Stakes the Derby

There are a lot of decisions to be made in the next few weeks or months regarding the rescheduling of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1) and the ramifications it will have on the other two Triple Crown races and several major race meets, especially Saratoga.

Well, there are two potential decisions that are not out of the realm of possibility, one of which is more realistic.

First off, and this probably will not happen, I would love to see a track like Santa Anita Park, or whoever wants to put up the money, stage a mile-and-a-quarter race on the first Saturday in May. I mention Santa Anita because of the assurance of a fast track, the TV appeal, which we're seeing now with NBC Sports, Fox Sports, and TVG all having extensive racing coverage over the next two weeks, and having TVG and XBTV as their home networks.

But looking at it more realistically, I can't think of a reason why NYRA, if it continues to race with no patrons, shouldn't run the Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets (G1) either as scheduled or a week or two or three earlier.

First of all, it would replace the Derby as THE target race for all the 3-year-olds who, to quote Meat Loaf, are all revved up for a classic with no place to go. It would be the only sporting event to bet on and the nationwide and worldwide handle would be through the roof. You have the TV rights, and all eyes will be on Belmont. As I said, we already have major race coverage on three different networks the next two weekends -- NBC Sports, Fox Sports, and TVG. In a crazy year like this, who says we need to have a Triple Crown. As Churchill demonstrated in its decision where to reschedule the Derby, it's every track for itself, and this way the Belmont Stakes would be the star attraction of the spring instead of the Derby. 

If NYRA does keep the Belmont on schedule I believe the nationwide and worldwide handle would be enormous as the only sports betting outlet in the country, and beyond, and the only sport running. And TV networks will be clamoring to televise a live sporting event.

Running a large classic field at a mile and a quarter at Belmont could be challenging for outside-drawn horses -- such races there essentially begin on the first of two turns due to the track's layout -- and some people might say you really don't want to have horses go from a mile and an eighth to a mile and a half. Well, it didn't stop Sir Winston, Tonalist, Ruler on Ice, Drosselmeyer, Da' Tara, Rags to Riches, Sarava, Colonial Affair, Danzig Connection, Caveat, Conquistador Cielo, Summing, Temperence Hill, and Coastal from winning the Belmont never having been farther than 1 1/8 miles. So of the last 40 Belmont winners, 35 percent of them had never been farther than 1 1/8 miles.

If NYRA decides it would easier and safer to just stay at Aqueduct, then you could easily run the Belmont at a mile and a quarter or traditionally keep it at a mile and a half. They did run the Belmont successfully at Aqueduct through half the decade of the '60s when it was won by Hall of Famer Damascus, Kentucky Derby winner Chateaugay, and eventual Travers winner Quadrangle, who thwarted Northern Dancer's bid at sweeping the Triple Crown.

And second, with the Derby and possibly the Preakness Stakes (G1) moved to September, there wouldn't be any place on the calendar for the Belmont that I can see. There is just no place to squeeze it in, especially with the Runhappy Travers Stakes (G1) and TVG. Com Haskell Invitational Stakes (G1) preceding the Derby and being forced to move to an earlier date. It's going be hard enough to squeeze those three races in from July to Labor Day and then follow it right up with the Preakness. By the time they did get around to the Belmont, everyone is going to be thinking Breeders' Cup. And trainers are not going to run their horses in the Breeders' Cup Classic coming off a mile-and-a-half race. When the Jockey Club Gold Cup was a mile and a half it was a disaster as a prep for the Classic and cost Easy Goer any shot of beating Sunday Silence by dulling him to the point where he was too lethargic early in the race and dropped too far out of it. Also, you can't have the Belmont compete with the Jockey Club Gold Cup, so I just don't see where a mile-and-a-half race fits in even they wanted to run it.

Let's also remember that the Kentucky Derby will lose one major element this year. The great mystique of the Derby that separates it from other races is that you have horses going a mile and a quarter for the first time. Now they're going to go a mile and quarter a few weeks after going a mile and a quarter in the Travers. That is far from an ideal scenario. Who is going to want to prep for a mile-and-a-quarter race in a mile-and-a-quarter race three or four weeks apart?

I can't help but wonder what would happen if NYRA decided to go toe to toe with the Derby and keep the Travers where it is. How many New York horsemen would want to win the Travers in all its normalcy and rightful place on the calendar than a makeshift Kentucky Derby? I have no idea, but would there be enough diehard New Yorkers to take top horses away from the Derby?

But the bottom line is that the Belmont Stakes is being run on June 6. As everyone knows that is D-Day. Perhaps this year that can stand for "Derby Day," whether they run it on June 6 or earlier.

Anyway, those are a few of the scenarios regarding racing and the Triple Crown that are worth pondering. What else do we have to do?

Recent Posts


More Blogs