According to Hall of Fame Trainer Mark Cassey, in simple years, training a race horse is “like putting together a puzzle.”
Training for a race horse during the coronavirus pandemic for the Triple Crown runs in different order, at different intervals and at different distances?
“This year it is putting together a puzzle with no edges or image,” Casse said Monday. “It’s crazy.”
Cassey is going crazy because things look different this year, and the Triple Crown is still in full swing, starting with the Belmont Stakes on Saturday.
It will be the first leg in about four months, rather than the last leg of the Triple Crown in five weeks. Unlike the longest race at 1 ½ miles with two turns, it runs with just one turn at 1 ¹ / ₈ miles – less than the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. The noise of 90,000 fans heading into the jungle is only a pound of dust and the rallying call echoes the empty grandstands.
“At the end of 2020, I don’t think you can put on a big star all year, and Triple Crown is definitely part of that,” said veteran trainer Todd Pletcher, whose horses won two Kentucky Derbyes and three Belmont stocks. “This is a traditional Triple Crown series. If a single horse can win one, two, or three legs, I don’t think it’s going to be a win-win. These are still very difficult races to win. It is not clear that all three of them have been trying to do this for five weeks at three different distances ending in a mile and a half in Belmont. “
Typically, the first stage of the Triple Crown is the largest field – with 19 horses in last year’s Kentucky Derby. This year, it is expected to start at the Belmont Stakes with eight or nine horses.
It was originally supposed to recruit at least one Bob Baffert-trained thoroughbred, but both of his candidates have since been announced – first Nadal, then Charlton, both due to injuries. Another Grade 1 winner, Maxfield, decided to move to Belmont due to rebuilding and instead looked to the September Kentucky Derby.
“I talked to people three or four weeks ago and in many ways, I thought this year’s Belmont race was going to be the Kentucky Derby – the best horses in training are going to meet each other, on the West Coast and the East Coast and in between,” said Jack Knowlton, owner of betting favorites Tiz The Law. Because of Bob’s two horse injuries and now out of Maxfield, we are all.
Instead, a revamped schedule and distance may not be available to other horses during a typical triple crown season.
Dr. Post, one of Pletcher’s two entries along Farmington Road, is not ready for any of the Triple Crown races to be run as usual. Case’s Tap It to Win 2020 was not nominated for the Kentucky Derby, and after surgery in the offseason, it may not even be racing unless three furlongs are reduced in Belmont stocks.
But the puzzle has come together in this strange year, and those involved in it are not complaining.
“I am very happy that we are going to have Belmont and we will have a preakness – at least I believe we are going to have a preakness and a derby,” Casse said. “So no matter what order it is, I’m fine.”