Triple Crown Wrap-Up: Trio of Winners Leaves 3-Year-Old Division Wide Open

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Triple Crown Kentucky Derby Preakness Stakes Belmont Mystik Dan Seize the Grey Dornoch Thorpedo Anna Mindframe Sierra Leone Catching Freedom McPeek Pletcher Repole Travers Stakes Breeders’ Cup Classic Haskell Stakes horse racing
Dornoch (front left, maroon and white jockey silks) moves up to take the lead over Seize the Grey (front right, white and black jockey silks) en route to winning the Belmont Stakes June 8 over Mindframe (far left, blue and orange jockey silks). (Eclipse Sportswire)

In terms of excitement and drama, the 2024 Triple Crown season was a smashing success.

It started with the pageantry of the 150th Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve, where trainer Ken McPeek sent out Mystik Dan to record an 18.61-1 upset in an sensational finish that saw the top three horses each separated by a nose. The victory filled out McPeek’s résumé, giving him a win in each Triple Crown race and capped a fabulous weekend in which he won both the Kentucky Derby and the Longines Kentucky Oaks with Thorpedo Anna.

Two weeks later, beloved 88-year-old trainer D. Wayne Lukas won the Preakness Stakes for 2,570 owners when MyRacehorse’s Seize the Grey captured the middle jewel of the Triple Crown at odds of 9.80-1, the sixth betting choice in an eight-horse field.

Finally, the five weeks culminated with the splendor of the Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets held at racing’s upstate New York oasis, Saratoga Race Course for the first time.

Not a bad spring at all.

Except for determining a clear-cut leader of the 3-year-old male division. Once again, the Triple Crown came up empty on that front, as 17.70-1 longshot Dornoch completed a series of upsets with a Belmont victory.

For a sixth straight year, three different horses won the trio of Triple Crown races, leaving the chase for the division championship a muddled mess.

Who’s the leader? Who knows?

“It’s pretty wide-open. No one has taken clear leadership (of the division) at this point,” said trainer Todd Pletcher, who sent out Repole Stable and St. Elias Stable’s Mindframe to a runner-up finish to Dornoch in the $2 million Belmont. “I wouldn’t put anyone atop it now. It’s a waste of time unless you win the Triple Crown. The voters tend to forget everything that happened before October and November.”

In one regard, Mystik Dan might have a tenuous lead with his run for the roses win and a second in the Preakness. He was eighth in the Belmont, as the only horse to run in all three legs of the Triple Crown, and McPeek noted he had mucus checking in at 2 on a scale of 1-5 on June 9.

“It was nothing major. He’s fine,” the trainer said. “It wasn’t an excuse for the way he ran.”

McPeek said Mystik Dan would remain at Saratoga and point toward the track’s signature Travers Stakes on Aug. 24 that once again looms as the major summer showdown for the top 3-year-olds.

“He deserves a break. He ran hard all winter and spring. We’ll give him a nice break and point him to the Travers,” McPeek said.

As proud as McPeek may be of the accomplishments by the son of Goldencents, he knows the division championship will be determined at a later date.

“The title will be decided later in the year and it will be decided on the racetrack,” he said. “Our goal is going to be the Travers, Pennsylvania Derby, and hopefully the (Longines) Breeders’ Cup Classic.”

McPeek said DK Horse Acorn Stakes winner Thorpedo Anna would also stay at the Spa and train toward a start in the July 20 Coaching Club American Oaks. The 3-year-old daughter of Fast Anna followed up her Oaks triumph with a decisive 5 ½-length score in the Acorn despite losing her front right shoe.

“She came out of the Acorn in good order. Her foot was a little tender after the race but we got the shoe back on the next morning,” McPeek said. “She is likely going to stay in the filly division. I’ll nominate her to the Travers but it’s unlikely I’ll run her. If she can continue to run like she has against fillies, it will give her quite a résumé.”

For trainer Danny Gargan, the joy of his initial classic and Grade 1 victory through Dornoch’s victory in the Belmont had yet to wear off a day later.

“It’s exciting,” he said. “We are real happy the way he came back. We will just go from here to the next race and we’ll try to figure that out over the next couple of weeks.”

After the full brother to 2023 Kentucky Derby winner Mage joined his older brother as a classic winner, Gargan mentioned training up to the Travers. But Sunday, he listed the July 20 NYRA Bets Haskell Invitational Stakes at Monmouth Park and the July 27 Jim Dandy Stakes at Saratoga as possible options for the son of Good Magic before the Mid-Summer Derby.

“We will play it by ear and see what we think,” Gargan said. “We’re just trying to enjoy ourselves and see how the next week goes.”

An incredible weekend for Gargan took an even sweeter turn Sunday when he won the $400,000 Matt Winn Stakes at Churchill Downs with Society Man, a Good Magic gelding who was 16th in the Kentucky Derby.

Mindframe at Saratoga. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Pletcher said his trio of Belmont starters, Mindframe, Antiquarian (fifth), and Protective (sixth), all exited the mile-and-a-quarter test fine, though plans for all three are uncertain.

Mindframe turned in a strong performance in the Belmont, losing by a half-length while racing for just the third time and competing in a stakes for the first time.

“He showed he belonged. I thought he did, but it was asking a lot of him in his third start. He was almost able to pull it off but the lack of experience and seasoning hurt him a bit. It was a great effort,” Pletcher said.

With Repole stablemate Fierceness, the champion 2-year-old male of 2023, targeting the Haskell, Mindframe is likely to remain at Saratoga and point toward the Travers. There could be a chance that he will prep in the Jim Dandy, though owner Mike Repole mentioned the July 19 Curlin Stakes at the Spa for 3-year-olds who have yet to win a stakes as another possibility for the lightly raced colt.

“He has a world of talent,” Repole said about the Maryland-bred son of Constitution.

Trainer Chad Brown said Sierra Leone, who finished third as the 1.70-1 favorite in the Belmont, came out of the race fine but he had not decided on a next race for the son of Gun Runner.

Brad Cox, trainer of Catching Freedom, who was fourth in the Kentucky Derby, third in the Preakness and skipped the Belmont, said Saturday the Constitution colt was doing well and could be pointed toward either the Haskell or the Jim Dandy/Travers.

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