Jaime Torres kisses Seize The Grey after they won the...

Jaime Torres kisses Seize The Grey after they won the Preakness Stakes horse race at Pimlico Race Course, Saturday, May 18, 2024, in Baltimore. Credit: AP/Julia Nikhinson

BALTIMORE — Even without a Triple Crown on the line, the upcoming Belmont Stakes is one of the most anticipated horse races in the sport's history.

That's because it's being run at Saratoga Race Course for the first time, part of a two-year hiatus in upstate New York while the Belmont's longstanding home in New York City is torn down and rebuilt.

“When you’re in sports, you get to do these unique things, and having a Belmont up in Saratoga, that’s pretty unique for us,” New York Racing Association President and CEO David O'Rourke said. “Everyone up there has leaned so far into this event that it’s just really cool. It’s hard to put a word to the level of excitement up there except the fact that everyone’s all in.”

Probably including Preakness champion Seize the Grey, who ended Kentucky Derby winner Mystik Dan's Triple Crown bid with a wire-to-wire victory Saturday. His 88-year-old Hall of Fame trainer, D. Wayne Lukas, said it was likely Seize the Grey would go.

He would not be alone, considering the historic nature of the Belmont at Saratoga, and also that it's being reduced to 1 1/4 miles from the usual “test of the champion” 1 1/2-mile distance because of the circumference of the track. At that distance, the race would have started on a turn, so the decision was made to shorten it, which could entice more owners and trainers to let their horses run.

“It’s a whole different deal,” Lukas said. "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.”

Two-time Triple Crown-winning trainer Bob Baffert also approves of the move away from a longer distance not typically run by 3-year-olds or even many older horses.

Jaime Torres, left, atop Seize The Grey, crosses the finish...

Jaime Torres, left, atop Seize The Grey, crosses the finish line with Flavien Prat, atop Catching Freedom, in tow while winning the Preakness Stakes horse race at Pimlico Race Course, Saturday, May 18, 2024, in Baltimore. Credit: AP/Julia Nikhinson

“You really don’t want to send a horse a mile and a half,” Baffert said. “They only do it one time in their life. ... A mile and a quarter, it’ll be fine.”

O'Rourke said the race will revert to 1 1/2 miles when it returns to the new version of Belmont Park in 2026. Given how much Lukas talks about his next crop of horses, he undoubtedly will show interest in yearlings born in 2023 for the Belmont's downstate return.

For now, the question is how much the final leg of the Triple Crown will be a rematch of sorts from the Derby or Preakness. Brown-trained Sierra Leone, who finished second by a nose at Churchill Downs on May 4, could run and so could Mystik Dan.

Trainer Kenny McPeek is shipping the Derby winner and Preakness runner-up to Saratoga but will wait a week to 10 days to make a decision. Baffert on Friday seemed to rule out the Belmont for Muth because the Preakness morning-line favorite got sick upon arriving in Baltimore and probably would not be able to heal in time to train for the June 8 race.

Jaime Torres, atop Seize The Grey, reacts after crossing the...

Jaime Torres, atop Seize The Grey, reacts after crossing the finish line to win the Preakness Stakes horse race at Pimlico Race Course, Saturday, May 18, 2024, in Baltimore. Credit: AP/Julio Cortez

There will not be any shortage of interest in taking part of the Belmont at Saratoga, which has been around since 1863 and is one of the most venerable venues in horse racing. The field won't match the Derby's 20 horses but will almost certainly be bigger than the eight in the Preakness.

“The Belmont field, it’s sort of erratic, and it depends on a lot of other factors,” O'Rourke said. “I think it’s going to be an exceptionally deep field. It will be a big field, but it’ll be exceptionally deep is my projection at this point in time.”

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