In future years, there might be a greater delay between the first two legs of horse racing’s Triple Crown. However, that situation could just prove the truth of Newton’s third law of motion; for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.
While a shift in the schedule for the Preakness Stakes could create a greater buffer between that and the Kentucky Derby, it could likewise reduce the break between the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes. While Pimlico Race Course, owned and operated by 1/ST Racing, is touting its consideration of the schedule change as being in the interest of equine safety, that might be an unrealized goal if Belmont Park doesn’t cooperate.
1/ST Racing weighs a change to the Triple Crown calendar
Childs Walker of the Baltimore Sun reports that “the Preakness Stakes would be run four weeks after the Kentucky Derby … under a plan being floated by the CEO of 1/ST Racing.” That would double the amount of time that currently sits between the two events.
Aidan Butler, 1/ST Racing’s CEO, said that “allowing additional time between the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes would give horses a greater opportunity to prepare and be ready between the Derby and the second leg of the Triple Crown.” Butler also added that the change is “in the best interests of horses and horse safety.”
Equine safety has been a paramount issue in the sport this year. A Congressional inquiry is ongoing and Churchill Downs relocated its races to Ellis Park earlier this year as a safety review of its track was underway.
Aside from those issues, Walker states that a spokesperson for Belmont Park’s operator, the New York Racing Association (NYRA), has “concerns about fundamental changes to the structure of the Triple Crown.” The spokesperson also shared that currently, the NYRA has no plans to similarly push back the date of the Belmont Stakes.
Should Belmont Park hold firm, that would mean the Belmont Stakes would take place just a week after the Preakness Stakes, again, if 1/ST Racing moves forward with its proposed change. The situation could create tension between these track operators and reveal that money plays a huge part in the decision.
Preakness considers move to avoid diminished role
While improved equine safety may be a by-product of a potential calendar change, it’s foolish to think that 1/ST Racing is completely altruistic in this consideration. The fact is that 1/ST Racing doesn’t want to become the least relevant of the three legs of the Triple Crown.
There is some legitimacy to that threat. As Walker points out, 2022 Kentucky Derby winner Rich Strike did not compete in the Preakness. Instead, the horse’s owner opted to rest the horse, forfeiting a chance at the Triple Crown. Rich Strike did compete in the Belmont that year.
This year, almost all of the horses that competed in the Kentucky Derby did not run in the Preakness. The lone exclusion was Mage, who won the Kentucky Derby and whose owner decided to go for the Triple Crown unsuccessfully.
A lack of high-profile horses competing in the race can diminish interest in the Preakness. While a four-week break might limit that effect, it might create the same problem all over again for the Belmont if it sticks to its current date.
In that instance, horse owners might similarly make the decision to pass on the Belmont because horses are not physically ready to run again just a week later. Thus, Belmont Park would be facing the same potential commercial issue.
With no national governing body for the sport to force 1/ST Racing and the NYRA to come to the table, this conversation might turn into a staring match.