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Preakness will be third race of Triple Crown as Belmont Stakes moves to June 20

FILE - In this June 8, 2019, file photo, Sir Winston (7), with jockey Joel Rosario up, crosses the finish line to win the 151st running of the Belmont Stakes horse race at Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y. The Belmont Stakes will be run June 20, 2020, without fans and serve as the opening leg of horse racing's Triple Crown for the first time in the sport's history. The New York Racing Association on Tuesday, May 19, 2020, unveiled the rescheduled date for the Belmont, which will also be contested at a shorter distance than usual. This is the first time the Belmont will lead off the Triple Crown ahead of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)
FILE - In this June 8, 2019, file photo, Sir Winston (7), with jockey Joel Rosario up, crosses the finish line to win the 151st running of the Belmont Stakes horse race at Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y. The Belmont Stakes will be run June 20, 2020, without fans and serve as the opening leg of horse racing's Triple Crown for the first time in the sport's history. The New York Racing Association on Tuesday, May 19, 2020, unveiled the rescheduled date for the Belmont, which will also be contested at a shorter distance than usual. This is the first time the Belmont will lead off the Triple Crown ahead of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)(Seth Wenig/AP)

The next Triple Crown winner could be coronated in the Preakness after the New York Racing Association announced Tuesday that the Belmont Stakes will be held June 20.

The traditional third leg of the Triple Crown series will instead be the first, with the Kentucky Derby scheduled to follow on Sept. 5 and the Preakness on Oct. 3. The Belmont will be run without spectators and cover 1 1/8 miles instead of the traditional 1 1/2 miles.

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“While this will certainly be a unique running of this historic race, we are grateful to be able to hold the Belmont Stakes in 2020,” NYRA President and CEO Dave O’Rourke said in a statement.

Industry observers expected the Belmont to fall first in the series after the postponed dates for the Derby and Preakness were announced. A move to later in October was impractical given that the Breeders’ Cup is scheduled for Nov. 6-7 at Keeneland. But the decision to make the race shorter was more controversial given the Belmont’s historical standing as a unique endurance test for 3-year-old thoroughbreds.

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NYRA officials said the change had to be made to “properly account for the schedule adjustments to the Triple Crown series and overall calendar for 3-year-olds in training.” They feared the $1-million Belmont would not draw an elite field if it remained at 1 1/2 miles, its established distance since 1926.

“It’s going to help some, it’s going to hurt others,” trainer Mark Casse said. “You’re going to see a lot stronger, probably a bigger, stronger horse from May.”

The Triple Crown series did not become a widely discussed concept until the 1930s, and the races were frequently run in different orders, sometimes with two of the three on the same day, in the years before then. But the pandemic-altered schedule will be the most unusual since at least 1945, when all three races were pushed to June because of World War II and run on three consecutive weekends.

No previous Triple Crown winner completed the feat in the Preakness.

“I’m just happy we get to run,“ two-time Triple Crown-winning trainer Bob Baffert said. “I’m just fortunate that they didn’t cancel any of them. A couple months ago, it didn’t look good.“

“The Belmont, running after that, the `test of champions’ is: `How tough is your horse? How can he handle it?“’ said Baffert, who trained 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah and 2018 winner Justify. “Now, a mile and a half, they can handle it easier the first time. It wouldn’t be as difficult as it would be after running those other two races."

Associated Press contributed to this story.

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