Kentucky Derby winner and Belmont Stakes entrant Mystik Dan works...

Kentucky Derby winner and Belmont Stakes entrant Mystik Dan works out ahead of the 156th running of the Belmont Stakes horse race at Saratoga Race Course, Thursday, June 6, 2024, in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. (AP Photo/Julia Nikhinson) Credit: AP/Julia Nikhinson

SARATOGA SPRINGS — There’s no Triple Crown on the line. But Saturday’s 156th running of the Belmont Stakes still has intrigue.

It’s a Kentucky Derby rematch, as Mystik Dan edged Sierra Leone by a nose in a three-way photo finish. It’s a Preakness rematch, as well, as Seize the Grey ended Mystik Dan’s Triple Crown bid. It’s being run at Saratoga Race Course for the first time — at a shortened 1 1/4 miles — as Belmont Park undergoes a planned two-year reconstruction. It’s a chance for Sierra Leone trainer Chad Brown, who grew up in nearby Mechanicville, to win his first Belmont on essentially his home track. And it’s a chance for Hall of Fame Trainer D. Wayne Lukas to extend his record for Triple Crown wins after earning his 15th victory with Seize the Grey in the Preakness.

That could make for a very eventful 10-horse race. Post time is scheduled for 6:41 p.m.

Sierra Leone, a closer, is the morning-line favorite at 9-5 breaking from post No. 9. Mystik Dan, who’s shown comfort with both faster and slower paces, is 5-1 from post No. 3. Seize the Grey, who likes to either set the pace or run in the lead pack, is 8-1 from the rail.

“The fans can relate to Mystik Dan, they can take a look at Seize the Grey and we’ve got a chance to see them both and determine, probably, which is the better of the two, at least at that classic distance,” Lukas said on a National Thoroughbred Racing Association teleconference. “It really is hyping the interest. I think the Belmont this year, you could make an argument for it being the best of the three, the Derby, the Preakness or the Belmont. I think they have probably put together the best of the three.”

The Derby at Churchill Downs is also run at 1 1/4 miles and the Pimlico leg is 1 3/16 miles. The Belmont is usually at a grueling 1 1/2 miles at its namesake home, earning the race its “Test of the Champion” nickname.

And the shorter distance was a factor in Mystik Dan’s connections’ decision to run the horse in the final leg and make him the only entrant in the Derby, Preakness and Belmont.

“I think it gives us a chance to really prove ourselves again,” trainer Kenny McPeek said on the NTRA teleconference. “Mystik Dan is such a unique horse in that he’s got tactical speed. I think they put him in position to be able to win the Derby. The running style of Sierra Leone is counter to Mystik Dan. And then, Seize the Grey. We’ve got a speed horse, a stalker and we’ve got a closer. So how the race sets up is so unique.”

The inexperienced yet speedy Mindframe, one of trainer Todd Pletcher’s three Belmont entries, will break from the outside post No. 10.

“[Seize the Grey] will probably be on the lead,” said Danny Gargan, trainer of Dornoch, a 15-1 shot from post No. 6. “Mystik Dan breaks fast, he outbroke us in the Derby and came over on us. He’s inside us and I’m happy about that. Other than that, it just depends what Todd does with Mindframe. We’ll break running and hopefully stalk or sit right there.”

Sierra Leone enters the Belmont with two big changes from the Derby.

First, jockey Flavien Prat has the ride after Brown replaced Tyler Gaffalione, who was fined $2,500 for “touching a rival with his left hand” near the Derby finish. Sierra Leone and third-place finisher Forever Young, also beaten by a nose, bumped down the stretch, quite possibly costing Sierra Leone the win.

Also, Brown will use a cage bit — a straight bar across the horse’s mouth that gives the jockey more steering control — in an effort to have Sierra Leone run straighter.

“He’s leaned in a bit and he cost himself in his two losses,” Brown said. “His three victories, he hasn’t done it as much.”

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