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Belmont Stakes contenders ready to race at Saratoga

Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports
The Sporting Tribune's Louie Rabaut introduces you to the contenders at this year's Belmont Stakes, which completes the Triple Crown.

As it does every year, the Triple Crown season has flown by. 

The lead up to the Kentucky Derby is always manic and eventful; the Derby winner showed up and ran well in Baltimore; and we get a rematch between the Derby and Preakness winners in New York.  It all sets up well, but man did it pass by quickly.

The biggest change to this year’s race is the move from Long Island’s Belmont Park to Saratoga Springs.  The Belmont Stakes has historically been dubbed “The Test of the Champion,” as it is a quarter mile longer than even the Kentucky Derby at one-and-a-half miles. 

Given the layout of the Saratoga course, it’ll be run at the 1 ¼ mile distance, instead.  This changes the complexion of the race in a significant way, and allows a larger number of horses to compete and feel like they have a legitimate shot.

Let’s meet the starters:

1. Seize The Grey Jockey: Jaime Torres. Trainer: D Wayne Lukas.

Seize The Grey is on quite the streak right now: he won the Grade 1 Preakness in his last start three weeks ago, and two week prior to that won the Grade 2 Pat Day Mile on Kentucky Derby day at Churchill Downs.  We’re getting 8/1 on the morning line for this colt; he won at 9/1 in both the Pat Day and Preakness.  I think he’s the best value of any horse at 8/1 or longer.

2.  Resilience. Jockey: Junior Alvarado. Trainer: Bill Mott.

Resilience won the New York prep for the Derby – the Wood Memorial – at Aqueduct Racetrack on Long Island.  He ran a good sixth in the Kentucky Derby, and has all the connections and breeding to be a very good colt moving forward.  Trainer Bill Mott hasn’t won the Belmont since 2010, but has won nine training titles at Saratoga.  I think Resilience is the best Wood Memorial winner since Vino Rosso, an eventual Breeder’s Cup Classic winner.

3.  Mystik Dan. Jockey: Brian Hernandez, Jr. Trainer: Kenny McPeek.

Mystik Dan is your Derby winner for 2024, and he ran a game second in the Preakness, as well.  There’s nothing not to like about his form, connections, etc.  One could make the case that three races in six weeks is a lot for young horses (Seize the Grey is in this converation, too), and if you wanted to use that as a knock, you can.  The 5/1 price on the morning line seems generous, given the likelihood bettors will put some cash on the Derby winner.  But make no mistake: he can absolutely win this race.

4.  The Wine Steward. Jockey: Manny Franco. Trainer: Mike Maker.

Speaking of Vino Rosso, his son The Wine Steward is running in the Belmont.  He was three quarters of a length short of qualifying for the Derby in the Lexington Stakes back in April, and has only run twice this year thus far.  He’s been second by less than a length in three straight races – could he break through here?  Hit the board?  If he does either, the check will be a good one, and likely vault him into future Derby races this summer.  I don’t love his chances against the class of this field.

5.  Antiquarian.  Jockey: John Velazquez.  Trainer: Todd Pletcher.

Like always, we didn’t see trainer Todd Pletcher in Baltimore; if his horse doesn’t win the Derby, we see him next at the Belmont.  Antiquarian is one of three Pletcher-trained runners in this year’s Belmont, and comes in off a very good win in the Grade 3 Peter Pan Stakes at Aqueduct a month ago.  He’s tested, rested, and ready to run.  Will he win?  My sense is no, but Pletcher has won four of these, and jockey John Velazquez has won two.  Races restricted to three year-olds have had stranger outcomes than an Antiquarian win here.

6.  Dornoch. Jockey: Luis Saez. Trainer: Danny Gargan.

Dornoch is another of the Kentucky Derby alums in this field.  He ran a subpar 10th that day, and hasn’t won since the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park in early March.  It would take an unexpected, monumental turnaround of an effort for him to win on Saturday.  The good news for him?  His full brother, Mage, won the Derby last year; perhaps he has a classic win in him.

7.  Protective. Jockey: Tyler Gaffalione. Trainer: Todd Pletcher.

In one of the biggest stories of the Triple Crown, jockey Tyler Gaffalione lost the mount on Sierra Leone – installed as the favorite in this Belmont Stakes – and has been relegated to riding the longest shot in the field, Protective.  Protective has run third in his two graded stakes appearance, but has yet to win any races in his career.  It’s extremely unlikely this Saturday is the day.

8.  Honor Marie. Jockey: Florent Geroux. Trainer: Whit Beckman.

Honor Marie became the “buzz” horse at the Derby, meaning he was all the talk of the wiseguys at Churchill Downs.  That buzz was partially warranted: he had a miserable start amongst a mash of horses, and still managed a respectable eighth-place finish.  Trainer Whit Beckman will make the switch to jockey Florent Geroux, an update on dirt over Ben Curtis.  While I wouldn’t wager Honor Marie to win the Belmont, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he runs well and hits the board.

9.  Sierra Leone. Jockey: Flavien Prat. Trainer: Chad Brown.

Trainer Chad Brown made the decision to move to jockey Flavien Prat for this mount, after what can only be described as a turbulent stretch run in the Kentucky Derby.  While I think most of the issues in that stretch run are because of Sierra Leone’s running style (he seems to pull left in the stretch of all his races), Brown clearly thought Gaffalione hurt his chances at winning on the first Saturday in May.  I have no issue with the Grade 2 Risen Star and Grade 1 Blue Grass winner being made the morning line favorite; if he runs his race, he likely wins.  The only issue for Sierra Leone will be in keeping a clean trip; with ten horses instead of 20, that’ll be a much simpler task.  Sierra Leone has never been worse than a nose from first place in five lifetime starts.

10.  Mindframe. Jockey: Irad Ortiz, Jr. Trainer: Todd Pletcher.

The first late-bloomer of this year to take a serious shot at a Grade 1 in this three year-old crop is Mindframe, a son of Constitution who made his debut at the end of March.  He won his first race by 13 lengths; he followed it up with a win on Derby day by seven-and-a-half lengths.  Is he the second half of the year colt this division always seems to find?  Can he improve off of his first two career runs?  Is he ready for a huge step up in class?  Trainer Todd Pletcher – who has won four Belmonts – seems to think he can.

What’ next for Belmont

We’ll have one more piece before Saturday’s Belmont, including some plays for Saturday.
You can always email us at TSThorseracing@gmail.com, and we’ll include you in the next piece.