Tiz the Law Wins Watered-Down Belmont

On Saturday, Tiz the Law, the odds-on favorite, won a Belmont Stakes that was three furlongs shorter and run around one less turn than the specifications at which it is typically run.

For decades, a bevy of horsemen, with trainer D. Wayne Lukas in the lead, have been advocating that the distance of the Belmont be shortened from its traditional mile and a half, an attribute that has earned the race its moniker of "The Test of the Champion."

This would continue a trend in which other races, especially on the New York circuit, have been bowdlerized over the decades: the Jockey Club Gold Cup was contested at the marathon two-mile distance until 1976 (Shuvee, a female facing males, won the race consecutively in 1970 and 1971), when its distance was reduced to a mile and a half, only to be cut again in 1990 to a mile and a quarter, where it remains today.

NYRA's Triple Crown For Fillies, originally consisting of the one-mile Acorn followed by the mile-and-an-eighth Mother Goose and finally the mile-and-a-half Coaching Club American Oaks (Shuvee swept those three races in 1969), all held at Belmont, now consists of, in order, the Acorn, as above, at Belmont, continuing with a mile-and-an-eighth Coaching Club American Oaks at Saratoga, and concluding with the mile-and-a-quarter Alabama Stakes, also at Saratoga (the series was renamed the "Triple Tiara" in 2003). And the two marathon mainstays that long ended Aqueduct's racing year — the mile-and-five-eighths Gallant Fox Handicap and the two-and-a-quarter-mile Display Handicap — have disappeared entirely.

And despite first American Pharoah and then Justify winning the Triple Crown over its normal five-week span in the 2010s, there are still no doubt many "reformers" in the industry who would like to see the three races spread wider apart — and they have taken advantage of the coronavirus to have the time period tripled this year, to 15 weeks, as the Kentucky Derby will now be run on September 5 and the Preakness on October 3, four weeks later than the Derby instead of the usual two.

But why couldn't they have had the Belmont run in November — say, on November 7?

True, this would have necessitated running the race at Aqueduct.

But guess what? The Belmont was once run at Aqueduct five years in a row — from 1963 through 1967, all inclusive — after the old grandstand at Belmont Park was declared unsafe. Racing resumed at Belmont in 1968.

And so what if the starting gate for those five Belmonts had to be positioned midway on the far turn (or the paddock turn as they say at trotting tracks), conceptually placing horses drawing the outside posts at a grave disadvantage? Since 1978, races at a mile and a quarter on the dirt at Belmont have started midway on the clubhouse turn, including the 1990 Breeders' Cup Classic, which saw that year's Kentucky Derby winner Unbridled win despite breaking from post position 14.

If the powers that be decide to exploit this year's aberration and lengthen the Triple Crown season on a permanent basis — e.g., keep the Derby on the first Saturday in May, run the Preakness four weeks later, same as this year, and the Belmont five weeks after that, there would still be enough time to run the Belmont at the eponymous track before NYRA action moves upstate to Saratoga, and without NYRA needing to change its regular schedule, even in years when Derby Day falls on May 7, the latest date possible.

In any event, let us all hope that Tiz the Law does not go on to win both the Derby and the Preakness.

One sport with an asterisk is more than enough, thank you.

Leave a Comment

Featured Site