Sierra Leone Favored Over Kentucky Derby, Preakness Winners For Saturday’s Belmont Stakes

The $2 million Belmont Stakes — third leg of thoroughbred racing’s Triple Crown Series — will be held at Saratoga Racecourse Saturday June 10th. An article on results of the post position draw is below courtesy of the Paulick Report.

The Belmont Stakes program features six Grade 1 stakes races — and all will be carded consecutively which will make for some very attractive multi-race wagers. The Belmont itself is Race 12 and will go to post at 6:41 PM. The $1 million Manhattan (Race 11), $1 million Hill ‘n Dale Metropolitan Handicap (Race 10), $1 million Jaipur Stakes (Race 9), $500,000 Woody Stephens Stakes (Race 8) and $500,000 Ogden Phipps (Race 7) all precede the Belmont. A trio of other stakes will be contested in Races 4 thru 6 — the True North (G2), Poker (G3) and Suburban (G2).

Fans can bet the action at any Rosie’s Gaming Emporium — located in New Kent, Richmond, Hampton, Dumfries, Emporia, Vinton and Collinsville, at either VA-Horseplay OTB located at Breakers Sports Grille in Henrico and Buckets Bar & Grill in Chesapeake, and online via TwinSpires, TVG, XpressBet and NYRABets.

Sierra Leone will get a new bit and a new rider in Flavien Prat for the Belmont Stakes, and has drawn post nine (Pat McDonough photo)

A Kentucky Derby winner and a Preakness winner will be in the starting gates for this Saturday’s unique edition of the Belmont Stakes, to be held for the first time at Saratoga Race Course over a distance of 1 1/4 miles. However, neither Mystik Dan nor Seize The Grey will be favored for the third leg of the Triple Crown.

That honor goes to Chad Brown-trained Sierra Leone, who finished second in the Kentucky Derby, beaten just a nose for the win after lugging in through the stretch run. The Gun Runner colt is favored on the Belmont Stakes morning line at 9-5. Sierra Leone will get a new bit and a new rider in Flavien Prat for the Belmont Stakes, and has drawn post nine in the field of 10 3-year-olds.

Peter M. Brant, Mrs. John Magnier, Michael Tabor, Derrick Smith, Westerberg, and Brook T. Smith’s Sierra Leone is two noses shy of a perfect 5-for-5 record. The colt made his first two starts at Aqueduct Racetrack with a first-out win in November and a narrow defeat in December to returning rival Dornoch in the Grade 2 Remsen after lugging in down the lane.

Sierra Leone added blinkers and was perfect through his first two starts this year, closing from deep to take the Grade 2 Risen Star over sloppy and sealed footing in February at Fair Grounds and the Grade 1 Blue Grass in April at Keeneland.

Post positions for the 2024 Belmont Stakes
Post positions for the 2024 Belmont StakesCoglianese photo

The $2.3 million Fasig-Tipton Saratoga Select Yearling Sale purchase, out of the Grade 1-winning Malibu Moon mare Heavenly Love, exited post 2-of-20 under Tyler Gaffalione in the Kentucky Derby and after saving ground early, rallied wide down the lane, bumping with Forever Young from the three-sixteenths to the furlong grounds. Sierra Leone and Forever Young, who share the same second dam in the multiple graded stakes-placed Darling My Darling, brushed to the wire with only a nose between them – but also a further nose back of the victorious Mystik Dan.

Brown remains level-headed about the narrow defeat.

“You have no choice but to move forward,” said Brown, whose best previous Belmont Stakes result is a runner-up effort in 2018 with Gronkowski. “It’s not something I think about every day, but that’s horse racing. I’ve been on both ends of it and it just so happens that it was the biggest race in this country. It’s a tough thing to lose the Kentucky Derby by a nose, but hopefully he can redeem himself in this race and I’m just so grateful I have the horse.

“He ran a super race and never let us down in terms of not showing up in the race. He’s always fired,” Brown added. “Has he gotten in his own way a couple times that prevented him from being undefeated? Probably, but he has so much raw ability that you take the good with the bad—and there’s a lot more good. I’m more or less managing him to try to make him Champion 3-Year-Old – picking the right races and giving him the rest that would be most beneficial to him.”

While the Derby winner continued to the Preakness, Sierra Leone, bred in Kentucky by Debby Oxley, has trained locally over the Oklahoma dirt training track with a new cage bit and on Saturday will have the services of a new rider in Flavien Prat.

“I think the left stick would have done him a world of good on the turn in the Derby, but that’s hindsight, now,” Brown said. “Nevertheless, I decided, for insurance, to have something on him to provide more power-steering. With horses, sometimes you try something when they’re younger and it doesn’t seem to move the needle much, but you try something when they’re more mature—it could be equipment or the ground they run on or a track they don’t like—and it does.”

Sierra Leone has collected more than $1.9 million in purse earnings through a 5-3-2-0 ledger.

The OTB at Breakers Sports Grille is located in Ollie’s Plaza on West Broad Street in Henrico.

Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher will saddle a trio in the Belmont Stakes, led by 7-2 second choice Mindframe for Mike Repole and St. Elias Stable. Drawn in post 10 under Irad Ortiz, Jr., the lightly-raced son of Constitution has won his two career starts by a combined 21 1/4 lengths.

“He’s been super-impressive in his two races and the way he’s done that and how easily he’s won those races, how fast those races have been – it gives you the confidence he has the talent,” Pletcher said. “The question mark is if he has the experience and the seasoning. Obviously, he’s giving up some experience to some really good horses, so that’s the concern. I think, from a talent perspective, he has enough talent to compete with this field, but he doesn’t have the foundation and the experience that most of the ones in here do.”

Pletcher’s other two entrants are G3 Peter Pan winner Antiquarian (post five, 12-1) and the maiden Protective (post seven, 20-1).

“I liked the way Antiquarian finished [in the Peter Pan], and I really like the way he galloped out. I’m excited about giving him the opportunity to run a mile and a quarter,” Pletcher said.

Belmont Stakes participant Antiquarian, shown in the winners circle at Fair Grounds, is one of two Virginia-Certified horses in the field. The other Mindframe who is second early favorite at 7-2.

Ken McPeek was pleased with post three for his Kentucky Derby winner and Preakness runner-up Mystik Dan (5-1). 

Lance Gasaway, 4 G Racing, Daniel Hamby, III and Valley View Farm’s Grade 1 Kentucky Derby-winner Mystik Dan will become the only horse to race in all three legs of the Triple Crown this year, but jockey Brian Hernandez will have to work out another good trip for the son of Goldencents.

McPeek credits Hernandez, Jr. for engineering an incredible trip when a matter of inches decided the Derby.

“He’s been doing that for me for years,” McPeek said. “I don’t question it when he’s out there and I don’t worry when it doesn’t go right. He’s ultra-consistent and he’s not scared to go inside. Any tactic he takes, I trust it. As a relationship between jockey and trainer, it’s the best one I’ve ever had.

“He gets a horse to travel very well underneath him and they’re very efficient when he’s on them, so the way they move across the ground and how a rider gets a horse to flow in the middle of the race can be more important than the finish,” added McPeek, who completed a long-awaited personal Triple Crown with Mystik Dan after winning the Belmont Stakes in 2002 with Sarava – who, at 70-1, denied War Emblem a Triple Crown – and the Grade 1 Preakness in 2020 with filly Swiss Skydiver. “Brian gets the horse very comfortable, and he has very soft hands. He never checks a horse, ever, unless somebody takes him out, so there’s never any lost motion.”

Seize The Grey is shown capturing the Preakness Stakes (Mitch Stringer photo)

The 88-year-old D. Wayne Lukas will be looking to add a fifth Belmont with the horse that provided him a seventh Preakness win in MyRacehorse’s Seize the Grey. The son of Arrogate will break from the rail post position under up-and-coming rider Jaime Torres. Listed at 8-1 on the morning line, Seize The Grey also won the G2 Pat Day Mile on Kentucky Derby day, so both he and Mystik Dan are racing for the third time in five weeks.

Lukas lauded his charge’s versatility in being able to compete on Derby Day as well as in the Preakness, as he mirrors the race spacing of Mystik Dan.

“He’s not one-dimensional,” Lukas said. “I told Jaime Torres before the Preakness – I gave him two things to think about – if you break sharp and they let you have the pace, then just take it. Don’t get creative and try to be cute. Just let him do his thing. If they go with you – Baffert [Imagination] and one other horse or two break, take him back and lay comfortably in the 3-or-4 spot and get him in a better position to run at the quarter-pole.

“That’s all you got to do – you either make a decision off the break to go or you make a decision to settle off it,” continued Lukas. “That’s what this horse can do. He is definitely not one-dimensional. He’ll rate very kindly. Now, at a mile and a quarter, again the early fractions are probably going to be a little slower. He could end up on the lead again.”

Other Kentucky Derby runners entered in the Belmont Stakes are sixth-place finisher Resilience for trainer Bill Mott (post 2, 10-1), eighth-place finisher Honor Marie for trainer Whit Beckman (post 8, 12-1), and tenth-place finisher Dornoch for trainer Danny Gargan (post 6, 15-1). 

G3 Peter Pan runner-up The Wine Steward completes the field for trainer Mike Maker (post 4, 15-1).

  1. Seize The Grey (D. Wayne Lukas, Jaime Torres) 8-1
  2. Resilience (Bill Mott, Junior Alvarado) 10-1
  3. Mystik Dan (Ken McPeek, Brian Hernandez, Jr.) 5-1
  4. The Wine Steward (Mike Maker, Manny Franco) 15-1
  5. Antiquarian (Todd Pletcher, John Velazquez) 12-1
  6. Dornoch (Danny Gargan, Luis Saez) 15-1
  7. Protective (Todd Pletcher, Tyler Gaffalione) 20-1
  8. Honor Marie (Whit Beckman, Florent Geroux) 12-1
  9. Sierra Leone (Chad Brown, Flavien Prat) 9-5
  10. Mindframe (Todd Pletcher, Irad Ortiz, Jr.) 7-2