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Jun 7, 2024 2:08 am

Sierra Leone heads Belmont Stakes field at Saratoga

sierra leone

The 156th running of the Belmont Stakes on Saturday will not produce a Triple Crown winner. However, it may very well prove decisive in determining which colt will be crowned Champion Three-Year Old for 2024.

Part of the reason is that the winners of the series’ first two jewels, Mystik Dan and Seize the Gray, are among the 10 horses that will go to post in the 1 1/4-mile race, to be run at Saratoga Race Course in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

Mystik Dan, who captured the Kentucky Derby, finished 2 1/4 lengths behind Seize the Gray in the Preakness, ending the possibility of a Triple Crown winner for this year. The Belmont Stakes hasn’t hosted the opportunity for a Triple Crown winner since Justify, who won in 2018. However, during that five-year span, two Belmont Stakes winners have gone on to win the Eclipse Award as the year’s top 3-year-old.

A win by either Mystik Dan or Seize the Gray would certainly make either colt the early leader for the award. Yet despite their accomplishments, the early favorite for the race is Sierra Leone, who fell a nose short of winning the Kentucky Derby.

Trained by Chad Brown, Sierra Leone is 9-5 in the morning line. Brown is making a rider change for the Belmont Stakes as Flavien Prat will be aboard Sierra Leone for the first time, replacing Tyler Gaffalione.

Gaffalione’s ride in the Kentucky Derby sparked controversy as he appeared to touch rival Forever Young during the stretch run. The infraction landed Gaffalione a $2,500 fine, but no claim of foul was filed by Forever Young’s rider Ryusei Sakai nor by the stewards.

Brown said there was nothing about Gaffalione’s ride that precipitated the switch.

“It’s not a punishment situation,” Brown said, “it’s just the second half of the year and our horse runs primarily on the East Coast at Saratoga and Flavien and Irad (Ortiz Jr.) are my two main riders on this course.”

Gaffalione will get the call on Protective, one of three entrants in the race trained by Todd Pletcher. The trio is led by the undefeated Mindframe, who is the early second choice at 7-2. Mindframe will be making his third career start and his stakes debut in the Belmont. Antiquarian is the most accomplished of the three as he is coming off a three-quarter-length win in the Peter Pan Stakes at Aqueduct on May 11.

Seize the Gray is returning to the track where he broke his maiden last July. He is the fourth choice in the morning line at 8-1, possibly because he landed the inside post at Monday’s draw.

“If I had to choose a post, I wouldn’t choose post one, but it’s not a dealbreaker by any means,” trainer D. Wayne Lukas said. “With our tactical speed and everything else we have going for us, it’s no big deal.”

Mystik Dan, who will break from the three hole, is listed at 5-1. Rounding out the field at double-digit odds each are Dornoch, Honor Marie, Resilience and The Wine Steward.

The Belmont Stakes is the capstone of the four-day Belmont Stakes Racing Festival at Saratoga and marks the first time the race will be held outside of the New York City metro area. Saratoga will host the race this year and next while Belmont Park’s grandstands and racing surfaces are rebuilt.

The last time the race was held at a venue other than Belmont Park was 1967 when Aqueduct hosted the race as Belmont Park was undergoing renovations.

–Field Level Media

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