Key Takeaways from a Memorable 2024 Belmont Stakes Racing Festival at Saratoga

Belmont Stakes racing festival Saratoga Dornoch Mindframe Pletcher Seize the Grey Sierra Leone Chad Brown Mystik Dan Triple Crown Ken McPeek Thorpedo Anna Acorn Stakes filly Bob Baffert National Treasure Metropolitan Handicap Flavien Prat horse racing
Connections of Belmont Stakes winner Dornoch celebrate at Saratoga, including trainer Danny Gargan (sunglasses and baseball cap), jockey Luis Saez (hoisting trophy), and co-owner Jayson Werth (black suit and hat, sunglasses). (Adam Coglianese/NYRA)

Tom Pedulla offers takeaways from the 156th Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets and other major action that was part of an enormously successful Belmont Stakes Racing Festival at Saratoga Race Course.

Todd Pletcher (Eclipse Sportswire)

PROMISING PERFORMANCE: Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher knew he was asking a lot of Mindframe by making the Belmont the colt’s third start. For that reason, he had to be encouraged when the Constitution colt, a winner of his first two starts by a combined 21 ¼ lengths, missed overtaking winner Dornoch by half a length for jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. “Irad felt he lost just that little bit of focus. He was still coming at the end,” Pletcher said. “It verifies what we thought of him. He showed so much talent in those two races, but now we had to test him and see where he fit with the big horses.” Mindframe should only benefit from the experience and be a force for the remainder of the season.

Sierra Leone (Eclipse Sportswire)

EXASPERATING DEFEAT: Sierra Leone has become an exercise in frustration for trainer Chad Brown. After the colt’s nose defeat in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve, Brown replaced jockey Tyler Gaffalione with Flavien Prat and changed the bit on the colt in an effort to make him easier to maneuver. There may not be much left to try after the former $2.3 million yearling ran out of ground and finished third in the Belmont. It did not help that the favorite got bumped out of the starting gate, but then it became a case of too little, too late. “He had an opportunity to engage the bit and improve his position down the backside and he really didn’t do it,” Brown said.

TOUGH STRETCH: The debate goes on as to whether three races in five weeks is asking too much of still-maturing 3-year-olds as some argue for a change in the Triple Crown format. The Belmont results may serve as ammunition for those who advocate more space between the spring classics. Kentucky Derby winner Mystik Dan never threatened in the Belmont and finished eighth. Seize the Grey, winner of the Pat Day Mile Stakes Presented by SAP on the Derby undercard and then the Preakness Stakes, set the pace through three quarters of a mile in the Belmont before calling it a day. “At the end, he just didn’t give me any more,” said Jaime Torres, who rode Seize the Grey.

TAKING A SHOT: Trainer Ken McPeek has been known throughout his career for his willingness to take chances. He is someone who is not afraid to come up short. For that reason, it seems highly likely that he will send Thorpedo Anna against males at some point this season. The impressive Longines Kentucky Oaks winner sure looked ready for such a challenge when she dominated Friday’s DK Horse Acorn Stakes by 5 ½ lengths for jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. and completed the 1 1/8-mile contest in 1:49.02. “One of our goals coming into the race was to stamp her as one of the best 3-year-olds in America,” McPeek noted. “Whether we take on the colts will be fun and it will be interesting… We’ll see.”

National Treasure (Eclipse Sportswire)

NO LOOKING BACK: Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert’s instructions to Flavien Prat ahead of Saturday’s Hill ‘n’ Dale Metropolitan Handicap were clear as the jockey prepared to ride National Treasure. If he had the opportunity to go to the front, he absolutely had to do so. Prat shook up his mount early and there was no looking back as National Treasure drew clear of Post Time by 6 ¼ lengths. “We’ve learned about this horse that you have to let him run,” Baffert said. “That’s his weapon – his speed – and if you take it away from him, he won’t run well. That’s just him. Sometimes, you just have to go for broke.” The strategy was rewarded with an automatic berth in the Big Ass Fans Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile in November at Del Mar, a race National Treasure narrowly lost last year.

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