Spectator-free Belmont Stakes kicks off Triple Crown – Buffalo News

ELMONT – Last July, I stepped inside an empty Colosseum in Ancient Rome and listened to the quiet, closing my eyes to imagine gladiators of the past battling in front of thousands of Romans.

Like the expansive sporting venue in Rome, Belmont Park will be eerily silent Saturday as the $1 million Belmont Stakes will be run by 10 combatants of the turf without spectators and owners present for the first time in history.

Belmont Park is a facility so colossal that the echoes of the 1,100-pound horseflesh and their pounding hooves will resonate more than ever.

Just five years ago, the same grandstand shook with fervor as a homebred colt named American Pharoah wiped away a drought that lasted 37 years to win the Triple Crown and return horse racing to the forefront around the nation. Sounds of joy reverberated across the expansive racetrack.

Belmont Park will come alive Saturday as home to the first major sporting event in the United States since the Super Bowl in February, in front of a nation whose sports-crazy culture has been rocked by the coronavirus pandemic.

It’s a different world today, and instead of the Kentucky Derby leading off the Triple Crown in front of its normal throng of 150,000 fans, the world will turn to the Big Apple for the first leg and to watch history from afar.

The Belmont won’t be run at its normal 1 1/2-mile distance, shortened by three furlongs to not ask these 3-year-olds to run a distance they’ll likely never