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Like the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes, Saturday was a beautiful day at Belmont Park – the sun was shining, the track was fast and after a year of coronavirus pandemic the crowd was happier than drunk. A trifecta of perfect conditions for the Belmont Stakes, one of the most popular races in horse racing.
Essential Quality, the Derby favorite who couldn’t cope with a bad start, suspended Preakness in the hope of a better performance at the Belmont.
The plan paid off when he defeated Hot Rod Charlie to win the Champion’s five-mile test, becoming Tapit’s fourth horse to outlast his rivals in the final stage of the Triple Crown.
The cheerful mood on Saturday almost gave the impression that everything was fine with the sport. If only that was the case.
It was a tumultuous spring for horse racing. Medina Spirit’s win in the Kentucky Derby, the first leg of the Triple Crown, was immediately tarnished for the horse and his trainer Bob Baffert with a failed drug test. The horse was allowed to run in preakness while a second sample was tested. He finished third and saved the Belmont organizers from an awkward decision if a Triple Crown was at stake before the final race.
After the preakness, the New York Racing Association said that Baffert, a two-time triple crown winner and the sport’s most famous person, would be banned from running on all New York circuits until further notice.
Wednesday confirmed the positive test that paved the way for Medina Spirit to become the second winner in the 147-year history of the derby to be disqualified for a failed drug test.
Churchill Downs suspended Baffert from participating in the Louisville, Kentucky racetrack for two years.
“Reckless practices and substance abuses that endanger the safety of our equine and human athletes or the integrity of our sport are unacceptable and as a company we must take steps to show that they will not be tolerated,” said Bill Carstanjen, CEO of Churchill Downs said on Wednesday.
The scandal came as horse racing prepared for the implementation of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act passed in Congress last year. It goes into effect July 1, 2022 and requires a body overseen by the Federal Trade Commission to establish uniform rules and penalties to be enforced by the United States Anti-Doping Agency.
Even without the renewed drug problems, horse racing had a turbulent year after the coronavirus pandemic forced serious changes to the Triple Crown Trail in 2020.
None of the races allowed spectators and the derby and preakness were delayed. The Belmont was played as the first leg of the Triple Crown for the first time last June. The derby followed in September and the preakness came in October.
That year, the Belmont Stakes returned to their normal mile and a half distance (a mile and a half last year) and traditional placement as the final stage of the Triple Crown, earning their nickname as the Test of the. fair becomes champion. Still, there were memories of the pandemic everywhere. On Long Island, only about 11,000 fans were scattered around the circuit, though the crowd probably seemed bigger than it was because the Islanders’ new arena, slated to open for the 2021-22 NHL season, bisects the famous Belmont Park backyard Has. Gone are the days of overflowing cool boxes, camping chairs, and picnic blankets; picnic tables now sell for over $ 100 each.
John Dibs of Howard Beach, Queens, sat at one of these tables with a group of childhood friends. They all had some sort of connection with Belmont Park – Dibs’ great-grandfather was a blacksmith on the New York racetracks for 50 years – and have been coming to this race since they were buddies, sitting in the backyard.
After grumbling a little about the loss of the pond, ducks, trees, playground, and parking lot, everyone agreed that one alternative – not being allowed to race at all – was much worse.
“Being with family and friends again and sharing the day is almost like going home for us,” he said.