Empty grandstands. Masked jockeys. And quietness. Everything was strange about this Belmont Stakes, except the winner. Favored horse Tiz the Law claimed victory in the first race of a mixed-up racing schedule due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Usually, the Triple Crown races begin with the Kentucky Derby. They move to the Preakness Stakes and end at Belmont. But like so many other events, coronavirus changed everything from the usual race order to the atmosphere.
The strange horse race may have been difficult for some, but trainer Barclay Tagg sees no finer way to round out a career Triple Crown. “I’m not trying to be a jerk about it,” the 82-year-old says. “But I thought the quiet, to me, was very nice.”
There were other ways this Belmont States was unlike any of the 151 before it. The race was 1/8 mile shorter because of unusual training schedules. Masks were required for all but the horses—even the jockeys wore face coverings. And only about 100 humans were present, including jockeys, media, and park staff.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo issued the traditional “Riders, up!” call remotely via video. Longtime bugler Sam Grossman pulled down his facemask to tap out “Call to the Post.” Horses strolled onto the track to a recording of Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” while an announcer introduced them to empty grandstands.
Perhaps the only thing typical was the race run by jockey Manny Franco: He stalked the pacemakers early, and then pounced on the home stretch. Tiz the Law won the 1 1/8-mile race in 1:46.53.
“It means a lot to me,” Franco says. “One leg of the Triple Crown is the dream of any jockey. I’m happy with the opportunity I have right now.”
Tagg wasn’t sure if his horse would pull it off until the final 100 yards.
“I’m just glad I lived long enough that I got another horse like this,” he says.
Tiz the Law must now prepare for the September 5 Kentucky Derby and October 3 Preakness.
(Tiz the Law, with jockey Manny Franco, crosses the finish line to win the 152nd running of the Belmont Stakes on Saturday, June 20, 2020. AP Photo/Seth Wenig)