First run in 1867, the Belmont Stakes is the oldest of America’s spring classics and celebrated its 150th renewal in 2019. Traditionally the third and final leg of the Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes has also been the longest race in the series at 1 1/2 miles, crowning legends over a formidable distance that has earned the historic race a fitting nickname—the “Test of Champions.”

Indeed, the list of champions who have won the Belmont Stakes reads like a “who’s who” of racing royalty. In addition to the 13 Triple Crown winners—Secretariat, Citation, Seattle Slew, and American Pharoah, among others—the immortal Man o’ War and the once-beaten Hall of Famer Native Dancer have all experienced unforgettable glory at Belmont Park.

But the 2020 Belmont Stakes will take on a distinctly different flavor. The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted racing schedules across the U.S., prompting the postponement of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes until September and October, respectively. As a result, the Belmont Stakes will kick off the 2020 Triple Crown series while simultaneously serving as a “Road to the Kentucky Derby” prep event awarding qualification points to the top four finishers on a 150-60-30-15 basis.

To accommodate the Belmont’s newfound status as a steppingstone on the Triple Crown journey rather than the conclusion, the race has been shortened to a less strenuous 1 1/8 miles for the first time since 1893.

While a handful of prominent 3-year-olds are skipping the Belmont to stay focused on the Kentucky Derby, 10 talented sophomores will endeavor to keep their Triple Crown hopes alive in the first leg of the restructured series. Can the heavy odds favorite Tiz the Law win as easily as experts think?

by J. Keeler Johnson