ELMONT, N.Y. (Reuters) - Tiz the Law won the Belmont Stakes in front of empty stands on Saturday, clinching the first leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown.
The colt was followed by Dr Post and Max Player at the New York event, which is usually the last leg of the three races that make up the Triple Crown.
However, this year it was contested first as the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes had to be postponed until later in the season due to the COVID-19 outbreak, which has claimed some 120,000 lives in the United States.
The New York-bred Tiz the Law, the odds-on favorite, hung back in third place for much of the race, keeping on the outside after breaking out of the eighth post in the 10-horse field, flooring it on the home stretch to surge into the lead and claim a decisive victory.
“I was pretty confident by the time we hit the seven-eighths pole,” jockey Manny Franco said. “He was so kind and relaxed for me.”
Trainer Barclay Tagg - whose 2003 horse Funny Cide won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes but was denied Triple Crown glory at the Belmont - said he was glad to have “lived long enough to have another horse like this.”
“I’ve wanted to have a Belmont victory before I gave it up or died or something like that,” he said with a laugh.
Roaring crowds were replaced with an eerie silence at the finish line, as fans and even owners were barred from the stands in accordance with safety protocols during the pandemic.
The Belmont, a typically raucous affair that drew a record 120,139 spectators in 2004, was empty except for venue employees and some members of the media, with concession stands and betting windows closed.
Tiz the Law, who strode from the paddock as Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” played, is the first New York-bred horse to win the race since 1882, ending the host state’s unlucky streak.
Governor Andrew Cuomo called for “riders up” prior to the race in a televised appearance applauding the resiliency of New York, which was hit hard by the coronavirus outbreak.
“Over the last three months, New Yorkers have been tested in many ways,” said Cuomo. “We’re celebrating a great, great New York tradition.”
The Kentucky Derby is set to be the next race in the Triple Crown on Sept. 5 and the Preakness is set for Oct. 3.
Reporting by Amy Tennery; additional reporting by Rory Carroll; editing by Pritha Sarkar and Sandra Maler