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Unique Finish Set for Triple Crown: Saratoga Hosts Belmont Stakes

Get ready for a unique Belmont Stakes in less than three weeks at Saratoga Race Course in upstate New York, not downstate at Belmont Park.

Yes, the final leg of the Triple Crown has also been held at Jerome Park, Morris Park, and Aqueduct through the first 155 runnings. But this is a bit different.

This year’s Belmont Stakes will be held at Saratoga

The “Summer Place to Be” will open for a four-day Belmont Stakes festival from June 6-9, with the Belmont Stakes set for June 8. The distance, traditionally at 1 ½ miles and referred to as the “Test of the Champion,’’ will be contested at 1 ¼ miles. Why? Belmont Park is undergoing a major rebuild.

Saratoga – Photo Courtesy of NYRA

Racing returns to Aqueduct afterwards before the Spa reopens for its summer season from July 11-Sept. 2.

Seize the Grey Belmont bound; Mystik Dan possible; field developing

So, who’s in?

A day after Seize the Grey won the Preakness Stakes (G1) for 88-year-old D. Wayne Lukas, the Hall of Fame trainer said his colt is in. Lukas will be looking for his fifth Belmont Stakes win, and his 16th win in a Triple Crown race.

“It’s a whole different deal,” Lukas said of the Belmont. “I want to get a hold of the race secretary and see how this thing will shake out and what the deal is. We’ll get new faces. There are some guys sitting in the wings. I’m sure that Todd (Pletcher) and Chad (Brown), with the depth they’ve got in their stables will be involved. The fact that it’s a mile and a quarter, I think it makes it more enticing.”

Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Mystik Dan, a game second in the Preakness, will be at the Spa, but trainer Ken McPeek says he’ll wait a week to 10 days before deciding.

McPeek also trains Kentucky Oaks (G1) winner Thorpedo Anna, who could be a Belmont Stakes possible.

Let’s not forget Fierceness, the 3-1 Kentucky Derby favorite who failed to fire and finished 15th.  But he seems to run well every other race, and trainer Todd Pletcher said his 2-year-old champion has settled in at Saratoga and is working toward the Belmont Stakes.

Pletcher, a four-time Belmont winner, also trains Peter Pan (G3) winner Antiquarian, who is probable for the Belmont.

D. Wayne Lukas and Seize the Grey. MJC Photo

Other potential Belmont Stakes runners include Sierra Leone, the Derby runner-up by a nose who skipped the Preakness, Honor Marie (eighth in the Derby), Catching Freedom (fourth in the Derby, third in the Preakness), Peter Pan runner-up The Wine Steward, and Batten Down, a maiden winner trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott.

More praise for Lukas

On Sunday (May 19) at Pimlico Race Course, fellow trainers heaped more praise on Lukas.

“He is amazing. He is superhuman. I don’t see myself, at 88, doing what he is doing. No shot,” McPeek said. “He is fearless, and I think that is why he wins races like this. He has done it many times because he is so fearless. I have done it a few times myself, but not at the level he has done it.”

Hall of Famer Bob Baffert was equally in awe.

“You want to see a horse go for the Triple Crown. That would have been great. The next best thing is Wayne winning one of these. He is creeping up on me,” said Baffert, who has a record 18 Triple Crown race wins. Baffert’s Imagination ran seventh in the Preakness Stakes.

Brad Cox, who trains Catching Freedom, said: “Unbelievable. Amazing. I’m half his age and still trying to get the Preakness for the first time at 44. Naw, it’s all good. I joke with Wayne. I think he was 40 when he won his first Grade 1 race. It was the year I was born. It’s amazing.”

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