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Belmont Stakes: Derby Runner-Up Sierra Leone Could be Favorite

Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Mystik Dan is possible. Derby runner-up Sierra Leone is probable. And so is Preakness Stakes (G1) winner Seize the Grey.

The post-position draw for the 156th running of the Belmont Stakes (G1) is Monday, June 3, and that’s when the field will be sorted out. Until then, anything can happen.

Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone will have a new jockey in the Belmont Stakes

With a bunch of trainers waiting until their 3-year-olds go out for final tune-ups over the weekend, we can only speculate who’s in the final leg of the Triple Crown on June 8.

For now, the field looks like it could be the toughest of the Triple Crown races: the Derby winner, the Preakness winner, two-to-four 3-year-olds trained by four-time Belmont winner Todd Pletcher, including his 2-year-old champion Fierceness looking to rebound from a dismal Derby, and Sierra Leone.

“This might be the best race of the three,’’ Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas said after his Seize the Grey won the Preakness on May 18, with Mystik Dan finishing second.

Interestingly, the favorite for the Belmont could be Sierra Leone, beaten a nose (or less) in the Derby in a three-horse photo finish. The $2.3 million colt will have a new rider in Flavien Prat, who replaces Tyler Gaffalione.


Belmont Stakes Lineup: Sierra Leone’s Progress and Potential Starters

In a Saturday (May 25) work at Saratoga – site of the Belmont due to a rebuild of Belmont Park, and at the Derby distance of 1 ¼ miles rather than the traditional 1 ½ miles – Sierra Leone covered 5 furlongs in 1:02.64.

“It was just what I wanted — a steady five-eighths and let them (Sierra Leone and stablemate Domestic Product) gallop out. I want to maintain where I’m at with the horse (Sierra Leone) and I’m thrilled with how he’s moving.”

As for the jockey change, Brown said: “Tyler, from where he was, worked out a very good trip (in the Derby). He paused a few times — in the first turn and around the five-sixteenths pole, there were some tired horses who came up on him and he had to get around them. It cost him a little bit, but I thought those decisions were good. I’m moving forward with the change, and we’ll see how it goes.”

Tuscan Gold. MJC Photo

Brown said he’s also considering Tuscan Gold, fourth in the Preakness, for the Belmont. A Saturday work will be the determining factor.

Same with a bunch of other 3-year-olds, including Mystik Dan. Trainer Ken McPeek wants to wait until his Derby winner works this weekend before deciding.

At this point, there are 13 possible Belmont starters: Mystik Dan; Seize the Grey; Sierra Leone; Pletcher’s Fierceness, Peter Pan (G3) winner Antiquarian, Protective (3rd in the Peter Pan), and Mindframe (2-for-2); Tuscan Gold; Honor Marie (eighth in the Derby); Dornoch (10th in the Derby);  The Wine Steward (2nd in the Peter Pan); Batten Down (maiden winner); and the filly Thorpedo Anna (Kentucky Oaks winner).

Derby Winner Mystik Dan Possible for Belmont

McPeek told that Mystik Dan is “doing rock solid. He’s been a very easy horse to train. He keeps eating up every day, [I] feel pretty good. I want to see him work; see how well he works.”

If the Belmont doesn’t work, Mystik Dan’s next race could be the Haskell Invitational (G1) at Monmouth Park on July 20. McPeek said if Mystik Dan runs in the Belmont, his filly Thorpedo Anna would run in the Acorn (G1) the day before the Belmont.

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