Bobby Zen

SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY–Hosting a slew of top-shelf graded stakes action at the Spa is not a new concept. However, doing it the first weekend in June is. The ongoing construction at Belmont Park necessitated a venue change for the next two years, creating a unique opportunity to host a Triple Crown jewel in upstate New York. Admittedly, the decision has sent local accommodation rates into the stratosphere, to the point of hilarity. But, for the diehard fans that want to get a glimpse of history, this year’s shift was welcomed.

Saturday’s sparkling nine-race graded card his led by the GI Belmont S., shortened to 1 1/4 miles for the 2024 renewal. Classic winners Mystik Dan (Goldencents), who took the Kentucky Derby, and Seize the Grey (Arrogate), all-the-way winner of the GI Preakness S., lead the fray and would help solidify their hold on the division in the first half of the year. Trained by D. Wayne Lukas, the latter has been somewhat overlooked in the days leading up to the third jewel in the Triple Crown. A winner of his last two starts–the GII Pat Day Mile on the Derby undercard prior the Preakness, the MyRacehorse runner is listed at 8-1 on the morning line.

His Hall of Fame conditioner acknowledges the strength of the competition, however, points out that the colt’s current form and versatility makes him dangerous.

“I took him to the main track and he got over that really well. He got over it beautifully, he just skipped over it. I was really pleased,” he said.

Despite winning the Preakness on the front end, Lukas said that his colt won’t be confined, tactically.

“We’ll run our own race,” he said. “They want the pace, we’ll let them have it. Our horse is not one dimensional. That’s the beautiful part. You can do anything with him. We can be fifth or first. I’ll have a little conference with Jaime [Torres] and work on a couple of scenarios.”

While the sentiment was probably the last thing Mystik Dan’s trainer Kenny McPeek wants to hear heading into the race, it was not unexpected.

“You do not know how these races are going to unfold. I quit trying to predict them years ago,” he said. “You have to trust that [Brian Hernandez] knows the horse, and we do. How it unfolds, is anybody’s guess. We found that out at the Preakness. We thought we could run down [Seize the Grey], but we couldn’t catch him. We’ll see if anybody goes with [Seize the Grey] and how things play out.”

A runaway winner in the GIII Southwest S. earlier in the season, Mystik Dan has shown consistency in eight career starts, finishing out of the money only twice.

“He’s been awfully consistent all winter, so we have just been trying to make sure he’s on an even keel. Even Steven,” McPeek said.

Regarding his colt’s post position, he added, “[Owner] Lance Gassaway had said prior to the draw that three was his lucky number, and we nailed post three. We feel good about it.”

Favored at 9-5 on the morning line, Sierra Leone (Gun Runner) will try and do what he couldn’t do in the Derby five weeks ago. Nosed out by Mystik Dan, the $2.3 million Fasig-Tipton Saratoga topper won the GII Risen Star S. and GI Toyota Blue Grass S. prior to his Derby run, and bypassed the Preakness in favor of a return to a distance he has shown he can handle.

“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,” said Chad Brown.

“He ran a super race and never let us down in terms of not showing up in the race. He’s always fired. 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.”

Typically well-armed in the Triple Crown’s third jewel, trainer Todd Pletcher arrives with Antiquarian (Preservationist), Mindframe (Constitution) and Protective (Medaglia d’Oro). Likely the most fancied on the day is Mindframe, named a TDN Rising Star in a flashy debut at Gulfstream Mar. 30. Back in the winner’s circle following another easy win, this time at Churchill Downs May 4, the Repole Stable and St Elias Stables runner faces stakes company for the first time.

“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.”

Antiquarian won the GIII Peter Pan S. at the Big A May 11 and will be trying the 10-furlong distance for the first time as will be Protective, Peter Pan and GII Wood Memorial S. third-place finisher.

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

Also keen to see how Resilience (Into Mischief) will handle the Classic distance, trainer Bill Mott believes a last-out Derby seventh might have been better than some might think.

“He had a great trip,” the Hall of Famer said. “Coming off the turn, he looked like he had as good a chance to win as anybody with the momentum and trip that he had. But at the eighth pole, he just didn’t finish it off. I really don’t have any excuses for him other than maybe he’s a horse that’s slightly inexperienced. Maybe he just didn’t run his very best race on that day. He ran a good race and I thought he was in position to win but didn’t get it done. We’re going to try again.”

He continued, “We want to find out about the 10-furlong distance. I think that’s very important for us to find out at this point in his life. Not that we want to experiment in a race like this, but we’ll find out if we need to move forward and try to go to the [GI] Travers [S.] or if we need to back up in distance and find some other races at eight or nine furlongs.”

Asked if the GII Wood Memorial winner would have started in the Belmont if it had been at its traditional 1 1/2-mile distance, Mott admitted, “I don’t believe he would have been. It wouldn’t have been something we are trying to do. I think 10 furlongs probably a better proving ground for a stallion prospect. I think people are more anxious to see a horse win at 10 furlongs than 12.”

Rounding out the field, last year’s GII Kentucky Jockey Club winner Honor Marie (Honor Code), who finished a troubled eighth in the Derby; GII Remsen S. and GII Coolmore Fountain of Youth S. scorer Dornoch (Good Magic) and The Wine Steward (Vino Rosso), victorious in last season’s Funny Cide S. and runner-up in his three latest starts, including the Peter Pan last time.

Underscoring the quality of the Belmont field, Lukas summed it up succinctly.

“I think this field is excellent,” he said. “It’s better than the Derby and better than the Preakness. You can make a case for more horses here than you could in the Derby or the Preakness.”

Ogden Phipps Sets Stage for a Clash of Champions

Getting the afternoon’s Grade I-racing action off to a fast start, the Ogden Phipps S. renews the rivalry of champions Idiomatic (Curlin) and Pretty Mischievous (Into Mischief). The former rounded out 2023 with five consecutive victories, including the GI Breeders’ Cup Distaff. Making her seasonal return in a sloppy renewal of the GI La Troienne S. May 3, the Brad Cox trainee came home 3 3/4 lengths ahead of Free Like a Girl (El Deal) and Pretty Mischievous farther back in third.

The 5-year-old daughter of Lockdown registered her most recent work at Churchill Downs, covering five furlongs in :59 2/5 June 1. According to the home team, it was exactly what they wanted.

“It was impressive,” said assistant Blake Cox. “She kind of caught come company and was rocking around there pretty good. She was doing it in hand and she’s very happy. She’s ready for Saturday. She trained up [at Saratoga] all last summer and did well and she likes the Oklahoma [training track] a lot.”

Idiomatic won her only start at Saratoga in last summer’s GI Personal Ensign S.

“She is just the model of consistency, no doubt,” added Cox. “There’s not many like her, and she makes our jobs easier. You’re very confident in here every time you lead her over. Pretty Mischievous is a very good filly, and obviously we’ll see how we break, but we’re planning to break running and go from there.”

Standing in the champion’s way is Pretty Mischievous, who annexed a trio of Grade I wins in 2023-the Kentucky Oaks, Acorn S. and Test S. After rounding out the season with a runner-up finish in the GI Cotillion S. at Parx, the Godolphin homebred looks to post her first victory since this venue last summer.

“She’s doing well,” said trainer Brendan Walsh. “She came out of the last race good and we were happy enough with her. She should move forward from it. I think we were a little compromised by the wet track [at Churchill]. She’s not quite her best on it and that’s been proven in the past.

“From a fitness point of view, she’s been working and doing very well and looks fantastic. Hopefully, we get a nice, dry track and have no excuses. That’s all we want.”

Turf Ticket Led By a Competitive Manhattan

Options abound in Saturday’s 1 3/16-mile GI Manhattan S. Among them, Godolphin sends out the Grade I/Group 1 winning Charlie Appleby-trained duo of Nation’s Pride (Ire) (Teofilo {Ire}) and Measured Time (GB) (Frankel {GB}). The former collected wins in the 2022 GI Saratoga Derby and last year’s GI Canadian International. He finished third most recently in the 11-furlong GII Man O War S. at Aqueduct May 11. The latter kicked off 2024 with a win in Meydan’s G1 Jebel Hatta before finishing fourth in the G1 Dubai Turf Mar. 30.

Attempting to overturn the Boys in Blue, three-time Grade I winner Program Trading (GB) Lope de Vega {Ire}). A winner at this venue in last summer’s GI Saratoga Derby Invitational, the Chad Brown runner took the May 4 GI Turf Classic at Churchill Downs in his only prior start this term.

Geared to the turf sprinters, the 5 1/2-furlong GI Jaipur Invitational features returning graded winners Cogburn (Not This Time), winner of Churchill’s GII Turf Sprint on Derby Day and Arzak (Not This Time), winner of his seasonal bow in the GII Shakertown S. at Keeneland Apr. 6.

In addition to the afternoon’s GI Metropolitan Mile and the GI Woody Stephens, Saturday’s Belmont Day card also features the GII True North S., GII Suburban S. and GIII Poker S.

The post The Belmont Comes to Saratoga appeared first on TDN | Thoroughbred Daily News | Horse Racing News, Results and Video | Thoroughbred Breeding and Auctions.

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