Churchill Downs management is optimistic that a 2020 Kentucky Derby run on Sept. 5 can be the first leg of a fall Triple Crown.
Bill Carstanjen, chief executive officer of Churchill Downs Incorporated, said Tuesday that broadcaster NBC is in talks on also moving the second and third legs of the Triple Crown, the Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes, to the fall.
In the modern Triple Crown era, the 1 1/4-mile Kentucky Derby has run the first Saturday in May, followed by the 1 3/16-mile Preakness two weeks later and the 1 1/2-mile Belmont three weeks after the Preakness.
Carstanjen spoke Tuesday on a conference call announcing the Kentucky Derby’s move as part of a response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The executive said he’s hopeful the Derby, Preakness and Belmont can follow their traditional sequence and spacing, even if conducted four months later than usual.
The Maryland Jockey Club hosts the Preakness annually at Pimlico, a track owned by the Stronach Group. By Tuesday afternoon, according to NBC affiliate WBAL, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced the Preakness will move to September. No other details, such as date and venue, are known.
The New York Racing Association hosts the Belmont.
“We gave them a heads up as we got close to finalizing an arrangement with our NBC partners,” Carstanjen said of the Preakness and Belmont operators. “They were receptive. They have their own questions. I know they’re talking with NBC now.
“Certainly, there is time in the calendar that NBC could make available. It could make for a pretty similar spacing that we normally have between Triple Crown races – two weeks to the Preakness, three weeks from Preakness to the Belmont. It’s all possible, but we just have to work it out together, and I hope they do.”
With a move to September, the Maryland Jockey Club would have to make a decision on where to host the race.
Pimlico’s racing season has been abbreviated in recent years to a short window in May anchored by the Preakness. The remainder of Maryland’s racing Thoroughbred calendar, including September action, takes place at another Stronach property, Laurel Park.
An October Belmont Stakes would align with NYRA’s racing calendar, as Belmont Park hosts fall racing between Saratoga’s summer meet and Aqueduct’s winter dates.
Dave O’Rourke, NYRA CEO and president, released the following statement Tuesday: "NYRA is working closely with all appropriate parties, including media rights holder NBC Sports, to make a determination about the timing of the 2020 Belmont Stakes. As the coronavirus pandemic continues to upend American life, decisions about large-scale public events must prioritize public health and safety above all else. NYRA will deliver an announcement only when that process has concluded to the satisfaction of state and local health departments. The Belmont Stakes is a New York institution with wide-reaching economic impact. We look forward to its 152nd edition in 2020."
NBC is scheduled to carry Notre Dame home football games both Sept. 19, the date that’s two weeks after the Kentucky Derby, and Oct. 10, the date three weeks after a possible fall Preakness.
The Fighting Irish host Western Michigan at 2:30 p.m. on Sept. 19, meaning NBC would have to alter its broadcast schedule to accommodate an afternoon Preakness. Notre Dame hosts Stanford at 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 10, so that wouldn’t conflict with an afternoon Belmont.