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     The third and final race of the 2024 Triple Crown series.  The first two legs were won by outsiders, with the favorites falling far from victory in each race.  Will that happen again?  Let’s take a look.

     The most important factor in this year’s Belmont is that the race will not be run at Belmont Racetrack.  Strange running a race named after the track, to be run at a different track.  But such is development.  Belmont is closed to racing for two years while developers upgrade and enhance the racing experience.  Good for the future of racing.  Not so great for this year’s Belmont Stakes. 

     The other significant change is that the usual, grinding 1 ½ mile Belmont race has been shortened to 1 ¼ mile, the same distance as the Kentucky Derby.  While the distance has changed, the 1 ¼ mile race is still a challenge.

     The field of ten is good, not great.  Some of the top three-year-olds have been entered.  Not all the best, which is somewhat surprising given the $2 Million purse. 

Here is the field:

1-SEIZE THE GREY:  A wire-to-wire winner of the Preakness three weeks ago.  He had the perfect trip leading to this impressive victory.  The colt was gifted with the lead on a muddy track.  The early pace was fast, and I expected a stronger challenge from the closers down the stretch, but that never came.  An easy win at 10-1.  Expect things to be different on Saturday with early challenges from 6-DORNOCH and 10-MINDFRAME.  They won’t let him get to the lead without a fight.  I suspect that fight will drain the tank down the stretch, especially given that this is the horse's third race at three different tracks in five weeks. 

2-RESILIENCE:  Winner of the G-2 Wood Memorial in NY, before running a decent 6th in the Derby.  This colt has been training at Saratoga since then in anticipation of this race.  Can’t discount this horse because his running style staying just off and closely tracking the leaders will help as the frontrunners presumably falter.  I have not seen evidence that this horse is talented enough to roar past the leaders.  If he does, I would not be shocked. 

3-MYSTIK DAN:  Okay, I am sold.  I discounted this colt in the Derby and then the Preakness.  I was wrong both times.  This colt ran two impressive races; winning the Derby by a nose, and finishing second in the Preakness, unable to gain traction down the stretch in the mud to catch the leader.  Since the Preakness, the horse has been training well at Saratoga.  I won’t discount him again.  Not sure he will win, but certainly play in all exotics. 

4-THE WINE STEWARD:  This New York bred was sold as a two-year-old in training for $340K.  He has earned more than that in purse money having won his first three races, then second in the next three.  His best race was last summer at Saratoga where he won and achieved his highest speed rating.  So, while his record is impressive, his competition has been mediocre.  He will need to step up to be competitive in this field.  He is obviously a grinding tough competitor, so not out of the question given his tracking running style.

5-ANTIQUARIAN:  One of three horses in the field trained by Todd Pletcher.  This entrant is ridden by Saratoga’s best jockey John Velasquez.  A tough combo, for sure.  This horse lacks experience having run only four times, winning two.  His last race was the G-3 Peter Pan which he won, defeating 4-THE WINE STEWARD and stablemate 7-PROTECTIVE.  Like several in this race, this colt likes to track the leaders.  In the Peter Pan he passed the frontrunners to win.  It will be more difficult to do so here given the others in the field trying to do the same. 

6-DORNOCH:  An interesting longshot.  Take a second to dissect his resume.  This $325K yearling purchase sired by champion Good Magic has run seven times, winning three.  In those three wins, including the G-2 Fountain of Youth and G-2 Remsen, jockey Saez pushed him to the lead, and he went wire-to-wire for the victory.  In the Kentucky Derby, he drew the unfortunate inside post position and was immediately squeezed at the start of the race putting him too far behind early on to catch up.  Let’s presume Saez takes him to the lead, challenging 1-SEIZE THE GREY for frontrunner status.  His pedigree is solid enough for him to sustain and steal the race.  He may also burn out, but worth a nickel at a high price.  My longshot pick. 

7-PROTECTIVE:  For me, this horse is my sentimental pick.  Owner Mike Repole buys and breeds the best thoroughbreds in the world.  He is also trying to organize a national horse racing organization with a single commissioner to bring stability to a sport in need of leadership.  Despite that, Repole is 0-10 in Derby tries.  This year, his horse, the Derby favorite, Fierceness ran terribly.  The year before, his horse, the Derby favorite, Forte was scratched due to illness.  So, here he is with this $250K yearling purchase sired by Medaglia d’Oro whose pedigree just loves a distance race.  This colt is lightly race, with only four career starts and has yet to win.  That’s right, still a maiden.  Despite that important factor, the horse has run against topflight talent in his last two races:  the G-2 Wood Memorial where he finished a decent third behind 2-RESILIENCE, and the G-3 Peter Pan where he finished a fast third to 5-ANTIQUARIAN and 4-THE WINE STEWARD.  Love Repole, trainer Todd Pletcher, but this horse needs to step up his game to win this race, his first.  Given his pedigree though, an exotics play.

8-HONOR MARIE: This colt finished 8th in the Derby and has been training for this race ever since.  The Derby run was interesting because he was banged around early going and started the race at the back of the pack 12 lengths off the lead with a calvary of horses in front of him.  The colt rallied to close the gap to 4 lengths before running out of steam and finishing eighth.  All in all, not a bad finish given the start.  So, what happens here when the beginning of the race will have him behind, but within a reasonable distance?  I can envision a run as he had in the G-2 Louisiana Derby where the pace was quick (as will be here), he saves ground staying within 6 lengths, then charging down the stretch passing those tiring front runners.  He may do just that. 

9-SIERRA LEONE:  This race sets up perfectly for this talented deep closer.  Therefore, a very worthy favorite in this race.  Let’s start with pedigree.  Sired by champion Gun Runner with a broodmare sire Malibu Moon.  The horse is brilliantly bred for distance.  That may explain the $2.2 Million paid for him at the yearling sale.  He has already earned $2 Mill, winning three of five races and finishing second twice.  One of those second-place finishes was in the Kentucky Derby where he lost by a nose (if that much).  What makes the Derby finish so impressive is that the colt began the race in the back of the field more than ten lengths behind.  Jockey Prat took him 8-wide while being bounced around.  He still had enough in the tank to catch 3-MYSTIK DAN, missing the Derby win by a whisker.  Since that race, the colt skipped the Preakness in favor of training at Saratoga with an eye toward this race.  With the pace expected to be quick, and with this colt comfortably saving ground, expect this horse to run past the field and win the 2024 Belmont Stakes. 

10-MINDFRAME:  This is trainer Todd Pletcher’s third and final entrant.  Again, partially owned by Mike Repole who paid $600K for this horse at the yearling sale.  This colt did not start his racing career until March of this year.  His two lone races, both going way victories, have been very impressive, albeit against subpar competition.  The question is how will this horse fare against the best?  His physical appearance says the horse can be a champion.  His experience says, not yet.  A true wild card.  So, we will see. 

MY SELECTIONS:

WINNER:  9-SIERRA LEONE

LONGSHOT:  6-DORNOCH

EXACTA:  9-SIERRA LEONE/3-MYSTIK DAN

TRIFECTA:  9 with 3/ALL

SUPERFECTA:  KEY 9 with 3/6/ALL

 

CELEBRITY HANDICAPPERS:

LEFTY LOUIE:  9-SIERRA LEONE

The change in venue has reduced the distance of the race by a quarter of a mile to 1 ¼ mile. The race will be at the same distance as the Kentucky Derby. The traditional 1 ½ mile race at Belmont would bode well for the strong finishers. Having fewer horses in the race than the Derby bodes well for finishers. So, a very interesting and difficult race to handicap. Speed and stamina will be the key to winning.  Sierra Leone (9), well rested and with Flavien Prat on board will win this race. Traffic in the Derby slowed him down and he still lost by just a nose. Prat will have him well positioned to finish strong and eke out a win over Mystic Dan (3).    

 

For third place I see a tossup between Honor Marie (8) and Mindframe (10). Honor Marie finished very strong after being caught up in traffic in the Derby. Mindframe is inexperienced, but in has run two tremendous races. Irad Ortiz, Jr. will be riding this Pletcher trained horse.  My wagers:

 

Win  - 9

Exacta - 9-3

Trifecta -  9-3-8@10

Superfecta box 9-3-8-10

 

Good luck!

 

DANNY DIMES:  8-HONOR MARIE

 

I must be breaking some kind of record to see how much money I can leave on the track by underplaying my second choices in the 2024 Triple Crown. Of course, I am torn between 2 horses in the Belmont too.

 

I am giving a slight edge to HONOR MARIE. He was also my slight favorite over Mystik Dan in the Derby, and if the off-the-pace angle was attractive there, it should be here as well. Honor Marie was out of contention in the Cerby about 5 seconds into the race, and he still managed to get up for 8th. I also like the jockey switch. The other horse I like here is ANTIQUARIAN. The Peter Pan to Belmont angle was successful in 2023, this is a horse on the rise, and it is hard to bet against Pletcher-Johhny V at Saratoga. Both horses offer value, and it makes a lot of sense to also pair them into exotics with Sierra Leone and a few other favorites. On paper, SIERRA LEONE is an obvious favorite, but how can you go after him at 9-5? And while MINDFRAME looks really impressive, can you be comfortable using him to win at 7-2 with no major stakes races under his belt?  

 

Overall, I am looking at lots of boxes and a few Win and Places on my 2 top choices. Good Luck!

 

_______________________________________________________________________________

 

PREAKNESS:

A mediocre field of eight three-year-olds, with the unfortunate scratch of the favorite 4-MUTH.  The remaining field will be vying for victory in the second leg of the Triple Crown races.  Three Derby runners return from the Kentucky Derby held only two weeks ago, including Derby upset winner 5-MYSTIK DAN.  Will he repeat and then compete in the Belmont to be the first Triple Crown winner since Justify in 2018?  I say probably not.  Here's my take and selections:

1-MUGATU:  You have to appreciate a horse that was purchased as a two-year-old in training for $14K.  One win in twelve starts.  While this colt has competed in some stake races, his best finish was a 5th place finish behind some of the Kentucky Derby competitors.  Would be a shocker if he did any better against this field.

2-UNCLE HEAVY:  Here is everyone's local favorite.  A talented PA-bred owned by NJ's Milam family, a terrific racing family excited to have a Preakness contender.  This colt is tough as nails as shown in his win in the Withers Stakes at Aqueduct.  His fifth-place finish in the Woodward as a Derby prep is deceptive because the trip was compromised from the start.  So, hard to properly evaluate this horse against this particular field.  Would surprise if he beat all those in this race, but he should be competitive, and certainly a play in the Exotics.

3-CHASING FREEDOM:  The deep closer in the race.  He ran that way in the Derby, finishing a competitive 4th behind the three-way winning photo finishers.  Expect that running style again.  However, I don't see a blistering Preakness pace to set this horse up for victory.  Hard to do that after an exhausting run only two weeks prior.  Still, expect this horse to be closing.  Just don't think he will catch the talented leaders in the end. 

4-MUTH:  SCRATCHED.

5-MYSTIK DAN:  The surprise longshot winner of the Derby.  Can he repeat that magic two weeks later?  That would surprise again.  This colt ran the race of his life, thanks in large part to a brilliant rail ride by his jockey under difficult circumstances.  We won't see the same circumstances here, or a similar finish in the Preakness.  Still, has to be considered given his last race. 

6-SEIZE THE GREY:  Looking back at Derby Day at Churchill Downs, I believe that this horse ran the best race of the day; just not in the Derby.  In a race run at Churchill prior to the Derby, The Pat Day Mile, this colt defeated a tough field in a manner that would be a perfect fit for how we expect this race to be run.  Hard to know, however, how he will respond against tougher competition.  Would surprise if he won but would not surprise if he finished in the money or close to the winner.  

7-JUST STEEL:  He could not sustain the modest pace in the Derby, retreating to the back of the pack two weeks ago.  This race will not have as many runners nipping at his heels and the race is not as long as the Derby.  So, expect him to run with the leaders early in the Preakness.  However, once again hard to see him sustaining forward motion against this competition on only two week's rest.

8-TUSCAN GOLD:  I love these Chad Brown trained horses with limited experience.  Reminds me of Cloud Computing who won the 2017 Preakness in his fourth start.  Sound familiar?  Does history repeat itself?  It does, and this colt could be as special as his predecessor.  A $600K yearling purchase finished a very competitive third in the Louisiana Derby, about one length behind 3-CHASING FREEDOM. What made that race even more impressive was that this colt ran with only two prior races as experience, fresh off his Maiden win by six lengths.  He is fresh, talented, well trained, and ready to go.  My longshot pick.

9-IMAGINATION:  A $1.1 Million yearling purchase trained by Bob Baffert.  Certainly, an expensive and talented colt with six starts, two wins and four seconds.  Not shabby.  He finished second in the Santa Anita Derby against modest competition.  It is hard to measure the talent of this horse because he has not competed against more talented horses, till now.  Never discount Baffert trained horses especially in a big race and I would not be surprised if this colt exceeded expectations.  

MY PICKS:

WIN:

8-TUSCAN GOLD

EXACTA:

8/9 - BOXED

TRIFECTA:

8/9/ALL - BOXED

SUPERFECTA:

Key the 8 with 9/3/ALL

CELEBRITY PICKS:

LEFTY LOUIE:  3-CATCHING FREEDOM

​With Muth being scratched, we have a whole new race. The Kentucky Derby winner, Mystik Dan, definitely benefits from this scratch. The Derby winner has not won the Preakness for 3 straight years. On Saturday, it will become 4 straight years.

I see my Derby pick, Catching Freedom (3), winning by getting out to the lead and holding off a late drive by Mystik Dan (3) by a nose.

In each of his races before the Derby, Catching Freedom was improving in an impressive manner. The traffic in the Derby was not his friend. Racing from the third position and with a lot less traffic, he will run his best race.


My wagers:
Exacta 3-5
Trifecta 3-5-all

I will place a win-place-show wager on our local hero, Uncle Heavy (2) because I am very sentimental! At 20-1, he is a very good value and will also benefit from the smaller field.

Good luck all.

Lefty Louie

 

BUCKET LIST MIKE:  3-CATCHING FREEDOM

We are sticking with our derby pick #3 CATCHING FREEDOM.  He had a good derby run and will now be on a different track surface.  We think that may make the difference.  We like #8 TUSCAN GOLD for place.  This lightly raced horse was beaten by Catching Freedom but ran a good race and will now get a longer distance.  Up for show, #9 Imagination.  This horse never runs a bad race and is always in contention.  We like the Baffert/ Dettori connection.

DANNY DIMES:  8-TUSCAN GOLD

DERBY RECAP - WIN TICKET ON MYSTIK DAN

 

In my column here before the Derby, I had HONOR MARIE as a slight favorite over MYSTIK DAN. I ended up going across-the-board on both, played a few fliers on the 18. 20 and 21, and the usual exactas featuring closers (Sierra Leone). Mystik Dan still needed the perfect trip and all kinds of breaks to (barely) get home first. I'll never complain about cashing a Derby winner at 18-1 with a $258 Exacta, but felt I left all kinds of money on the track. Most notably, was not able to close the deal on a live Pick 3 two races earlier with a 9-1 winner in the 1st leg, a 47-1 winner in the middle and 5 horses in the 3rd leg. Ouch! But that's how Derby Day rolls. For Honor Marie, he looked like a mess on the walk to the paddock, had a horrific trip and still rallied for 8th. For the Japanese horses, something to consider for 2025 with both in the Top 6. They are figuring it out.

 

PREAKNESS

 

8-TUSCAN GOLD

 

This has not historically been my favorite race and I hated last year's snail-like fractions that were not worthy of a Triple Crown. Was expecting a similar attempted scenario if Muth stayed in the race, so I think the 2024 Preakness just got a lot more interesting. 

 

My top pick, TUSCAN GOLD, is either feast or famine, but I still think it is value. I'm struggling to figure out if his entry here is a prep for the Belmont, or whether the trainer has seen all kinds of maturity during the layoff. I'm playing the maturity angle, and if you combine that with how the Brisnet speed results tend to trend upward through race 5 or 6 (before plateauing), then this horse is ready to deliver a huge trip here.  

 

I'm obviously showing some love for MYSTIK DAN in my bets after delivering in the Derby, but am I the only one who feels his entry is more obligatory versus enthusiastic? However, I think his chances have improved with Muth dropping out. He will now be able to either help dictate the pace or stalk, and that all plays into his strengths. Just not a fan of the two weeks for this specific horse.

 

If I am a little off on Mystik Dan because of the two weeks, I need to take the same approach with SEIZE THE GREY. And I am much higher on this horse than most people. Getting some money in a flier or exotics.

 

What am I missing on CATCHING FREEDOM? Brad Cox is a magician at the Preakness, but I didn't see anything in the Derby that would tell me this is a winner here. If anything, I think this horse needs more distance, not less. Watch me take the medicine when he wins. 

 

I am throwing out IMAGINATION on my win tickets. I think he will be bet down to 3-1 by post time, and then there is no value. Furthermore, Muth's scratch does not help him.  

 

Want a crazy flier? I am considering including UNCLE HEAVY in some way, shape or form. He will be in a ticket somewhere. 

 

UNDERCARD

 

Unsure for now, but my best prospective play is a Pick 3 in Races 7-9. I want to see the final field in Race 9, but if that has a weak favorite, I will then suggest a 1$ 7-ALL-ALL.

 

Good luck!

 

 

 

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