As pandemic threatens to scramble Triple Crown schedule, trainers and historians say they'll welcome races whenever

Childs Walker, The Baltimore Sun on

Published in Horse Racing

BALTIMORE -- From the first year the Preakness Stakes was run in 1873 until the race settled into its current place on the calendar in 1932, it preceded the Kentucky Derby 11 times and was contested on the same day twice.

In 1945, as thoroughbred racing emerged from a blackout because of World War II, the Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes were all held over a two-week period in June.

In other words, the sacred history of dates and timelines associated with the Triple Crown series was never quite so sacred. That backstory of scrambled calendars and postponed running dates will be of particular interest this year as the racing world looks ahead to the most unusual Triple Crown schedule in recent memory.

The coronavirus pandemic has already pushed the Derby from May 2 to Sept. 5. The Maryland Jockey Club and NBC Sports are considering dates in July, August and October for the Preakness. And the New York Racing Association has yet to announce postponement plans for the Belmont, currently scheduled for June 6. So the possibility looms for an out-of-order Triple Crown with unfamiliar intervals between the races.

What to make of this for a sport that cherishes its traditions?

"Honestly, I think that's the least of our concerns right now," said trainer Mark Casse, who won the 2019 Preakness with War of Will. "If we could just get back to racing, that would be wonderful. And with what's going on in the world, even that's not that important. ... I'll be happy, in all honesty, if we have a Kentucky Derby, a Preakness and a Belmont this year. I think that would be a bonus."


Casse loves the Triple Crown races -- the spectacle, the fan interactions, the tense competition -- as much as any horseman, and he said they'll undoubtedly feel different if run on unfamiliar dates and/or without spectators.

"But in 2020, there are very few things that are remaining the same," he said. "I think there's a lot of people out there waiting for 2021."

His tone was shared by others steeped in Triple Crown history.

"We have no idea how well the tracks will be able to coordinate this, but I think assuming the tracks are open for racing, even without fans, it'll be fine," said Bennett Liebman, a lawyer in residence at Albany Law School and longtime student of racing history and regulations. "I think we'll get over it."


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