Triple Crown looking for normalcy in 2021 season

COVID-19 caused disruption to the 2020 horse racing calendar, but there is hope that things will return to normal this year.

The 2020 Triple Crown racing season was seriously disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in the postponement of every race. The order of the races was also changed, with the Belmont Stakes the first, instead of the last, to be staged.

The Belmont Stakes was run on June 20, two weeks later than originally scheduled.

Because of the disrupted prep race schedule, it was also shortened from 1 1/2 to 1 1/8 miles. This radically changed the nature of the race, and what had been expected to be a 16-horse field was eventually reduced to 10.

The 6/5 favorite Tiz the Law made a late move and won the race by 3 3/4 lengths over Dr Post (5/1 odds).

Late derby

Next up was the Kentucky Derby, usually the star of the Triple Crown show with its traditional first Saturday in May race date. Instead, it was run on September 5, two and a half months following the Belmont.

Eighteen horses entered the race, with only 15 starting because of three scratches. The odds-on favorite was again Tiz the Law, going off at 3/5 and with the expectation that he would go to the Preakness with a shot at winning the Triple Crown.

Instead, Authentic at 8/1 odds pulled off a mammoth upset, holding off Tiz the Law down the stretch to ruin any chance of the Triple Crown recovering from the COVID-19-induced lack of interest.

The Preakness Stakes took place four weeks later and, despite an exciting finish with Swiss Skydiver (6/1) defeating Authentic (9/5) by a head, it was all but an afterthought.

Back to normal

Racing fans are looking forward to a return to normalcy, at least in the Triple Crown schedule, for 2021. While tracks are still limiting spectators on-site, the Prep Series for Triple Crown qualification has been taking place since September and progressing with little or no disruption.

The Championship Series, which includes the major Kentucky Derby prep stakes races, begins February 13 with the Risen Star at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans. The Grade 1 prep races, including the Florida Derby and Wood Memorial, among others, will take place between March 20 and April 10.

If all goes according to plan, the 1 1/4-mile Kentucky Derby will be run at Churchill Downs in its customary spot on the schedule on May 1. It will be followed by another 1 1/4-mile race at the Preakness Stakes from the Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore on May 15.

It will all wrap up with the Belmont Stakes at the race track of the same name in Elmont, NY, just outside the New York City borough of Queens. The horses that choose to compete will be completing the 1 1/2-mile test on June 5.