ELMONT, New York (Reuters) - Betting counters were closed and an eerie silence settled over the ivy-coated plaza inside Belmont Park on Saturday as jockeys and horses gathered for the 152nd running of the Belmont Stakes, which will be contested in front of empty stands.
The Belmont, traditionally the third leg in the Triple Crown, will be raced first this year after the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes were postponed until later in the year due to the coronavirus outbreak.
The empty New York venue, which normally attracts more than 80,000 spectators, was a sign of the times in the COVID-19 era, with even the sport’s wealthy and powerful owners barred from the stands due to safety concerns.
Masked park attendants mingled on a humid, 85-degree Fahrenheit day as concession stands that usually do brisk business selling chilled beverages remained shut.
Horse-racing fans who usually make the annual pilgrimage to the Long Island race lamented about being barred from the venue.
“It’s going to be weird watching the Belmont on TV instead of being there in-person,” Twitter user @GateToWire wrote.
“First time in 12 years I’m watching the Belmont Stakes on TV,” wrote @VTSimone.
Tiz the Law, the favourite to win, will begin his bid for Triple Crown glory on a shortened track, with the traditional 1-1/2-mile endurance test shortened to 1-1/8 miles.
“It’s sad in some ways,” trainer Todd Pletcher, who has two horses - Dr Post and Tap It To Win - in this year’s race, told reporters this week. “We’re grateful that we’re getting the opportunity to run.”
Reporting By Amy Tennery, editing by Pritha Sarkar