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Separating contenders, pretenders in 156th Belmont Stakes

Updated June 5, 2024 - 2:37 pm

Michael Kipness, aka “The Wizard,” has been a professional horse racing handicapper since 1986.

Here is his analysis on the 10-horse field for Saturday’s 156th Belmont Stakes, including whether each horse is a contender or a pretender to win the final leg of the Triple Crown.

Visit wizardraceandsports.com for his full card selections and wagering strategies for all four days (Thursday through Sunday) of the Belmont Stakes Racing Festival at Saratoga Race Course.

Note: The race will be shortened from the traditional 1½ miles at Belmont Park to 1¼ miles at Saratoga.

Post position, horse, jockey, morning-line odds:

1. Seize the Grey, Torres, 8-1

His 2,570 owners had a May to remember, scoring back-to-back wins in the Pat Day Mile and the Preakness. He will be on or near the lead from the start, but the distance, quick fractions and increased pressure will take their toll on him late. Pretender.

2. Resilience, Alvarado, 10-1

He ran a respectable sixth in the Kentucky Derby breaking from post 18. He made a strong wide-middle move to challenge for the lead approaching the stretch but faded slowly. His best chance to win a race like this would be going shorter, but he’s improving. I wouldn’t be surprised if he landed a piece with a perfect ride and trip. Contender.

3. Mystik Dan, Hernandez, 5-1

He’s been the star of the Triple Crown so far with wins in the Derby and a big second in the Preakness, getting perfect rides and trips from jockey Brian Hernandez. Trainer Ken McPeek would not run him in the Belmont if he wasn’t 100 percent. He’s tactical, handles the distance and has proven to be genuine. Contender.

4. The Wine Steward, Franco, 15-1

He has three wins and three seconds in six starts, but all his races have come against weaker fields and shorter distances. He will be forwardly placed from the start, but figures to falter in the stretch. Pretender.

5. Antiquarian, Velazquez, 12-1

He has shown steady improvement in all four starts as a 3-year-old, capped off by a determined win in a weak renewal of the Peter Pan Stakes. He will be forwardly placed from the start, but his lack of seasoning and the added distance will likely take its toll on him late. I don’t envision him winning, but he can land a piece at a price. Pretender.

6. Dornoch, Saez, 15-1

This speedster’s fate was sealed when he drew post 1 in the Derby. He quickly shuffled back to 13th in the early going and never got involved from there. This smaller field and a better start will likely put him on the lead. He’s overmatched and wants no part of 1¼ miles. Pretender.

7. Protective, Gaffalione, 20-1

This colt has yet to win a race in four starts, even though he’s put together back-to-back third-place finishes in a pair of weak-graded stakes this spring. He has too much to overcome. Pretender.

8. Honor Marie, Geroux, 12-1

He experienced a ton of trouble soon after the start of the Derby and ran respectable to finish eighth. He had shown steady improvement and a strong late kick in his prior starts. He needs a lot to go his way to win the Belmont, but of the long shots in this field, it wouldn’t be a shock if he made his presence felt at the finish. Contender.

9. Sierra Leone, Prat, 9-5

The deserving favorite has never run a bad race in five starts, scoring three times. He’s been his own worst enemy with his two defeats coming by a nose, including last time out in the Derby. This late-running, well-bred colt tends to lug in late, which has cost him dearly. Trainer Chad Brown has switched the type of bit Sierra Leone will be running with to help his rider have more control of him during the running, especially late in the race. It appears to have helped. Brown has switched riders to Flavien Prat, who fits Sierra Leone’s running style well. He will be tough to deny if he brings his “A” game to the Belmont. Contender.

10. Mindframe, I. Ortiz, 7-2

He’s by far the least experienced 3-year-old in the field, but both his starts have been blowout wins. He rated kindly in his debut and went wire-to-wire last time out. This will be his first stakes trying to stretch way out in distance against much tougher competition. He will be in a perfect striking position from the start, with every chance to make his presence felt late. Trainer Todd Pletcher has won the Belmont four times. Contender.

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