Even in a normal year, it can be tough for the Belmont to draw viewership if a Triple Crown isn’t on the line. This year wasn’t normal, and most non-racing fans were caught off guard that it even took place.
“The 54 week wait is over,” began the call for the beginning of Triple Crown season. For the first time, it was kicking off in New York, but not for the first time, it went largely unnoticed. With violence and a resurgence of COVID-19 concerns sweeping across the country, horse racing isn’t at the top of most priority lists.
With last year’s Kentucky Derby a contested mess and no Triple Crown bid, the sport had a 2020 mountain to climb for ratings with the usual sporting distractions of MLB baseball, youth sports, and the Summer Olympics. Even with these swept aside due to the pandemic, this is a difficult news cycle in which to find an opening.
Belmont 2020 eerily quiet
It’s even worse when the third jewel of the Triple Crown goes without a crowd. The usual playing of “New York, New York” bounced off the empty seats; the bell rang to open the gates, and total silence greeted the start.
It was weird. But it was, at least, horse racing.
The winner, Tiz The Law, put any at-the-wire controversy out of the question early on. It was quite a performance; he won by three and three-quarter lengths. He almost looked bored down the stretch, tilting his face towards the bare grandstand.
His jockey, Manny Franco, had never ridden in a Triple Crown race before. It’s a shame more people didn’t see it.
Tiz the Law, the morning line favorite at 4/5, paid out $3.60, $2.90, and $2.60. Second-place Dr. Post brought in $5.80 and $4.20. If you had Max Player for show, you brought home $5.20. But the riches were at least seeing the thing happen.
What about the rest of the Triple Crown?
One aspect of the Triple Crown is normal: It’s going to be interesting to see what will happen next. This Belmont was shorter than usual, and the Kentucky Derby is next, on September 5, and the normally-middle-placed Preakness won’t take place until October. Tiz the Law is already the favorite.
If we do indeed see a Triple Crown horse this year, the enormously elongated pauses between the races will place a virtual asterisk after his name. Even if the gaps were the same, the New York Racing Associations’ decision to shear three-eights of a mile from “The Test of the Champion,” which is normally one and a half miles, makes a bizarre year even more of an abnormality.
Three furlongs doesn’t sound like much, but in horseracing, it’s a Grand Canyon’s worth of distance.
As the broadcast flashed images of the winning horse’s mask-wearing connections cheering in a tent and trainer Barclay Tagg departed an empty viewing box, it was difficult to set aside what was missing.
It’s another one of those 2020 moments when we need to grasp what we have.