(Reuters) - The Belmont Stakes will be run on June 20 without spectators amid the COVID-19 pandemic, marking the first time the race will be the opening leg of U.S. thoroughbred racing's Triple Crown, the New York Racing Association (NYRA) said on Tuesday.
The race, which will be held two weeks later than originally scheduled, has traditionally been the longest race of the Triple Crown series.
This year, however, it will be shortened to 1-1/8 miles from 1-1/2 miles to account for 3-year-old thoroughbreds in training, who would usually have built up their endurance by the third leg of the triple crown.
The new date for the Belmont Stakes follows the previously announced rescheduling of the Kentucky Derby to Sept. 5 from May 2 and the Preakness Stakes to Oct. 3 from May 16.
"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 Dave O'Rourke said in a statement.
"Fans across the country can look forward to a day of exceptional thoroughbred racing at a time when entertainment and sports are so important to providing a sense of normalcy."
As the traditional third leg of racing's Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes is widely known as the "Test of the Champion" and has showcased many of history's greatest thoroughbreds.
Two of those Triple Crown triumphs have come in the last five years, with American Pharoah ending a 37-year Triple Crown drought in 2015 and Justify winning all three races in 2018 to retire with an undefeated 6-for-6 record.
(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Toby Davis)