Kentucky Derby, Preakness winners square off in Belmont Stakes

Preakness winner Seize the Grey is led off the track at Saratoga by trainer D. Wayne Lukas after training for the Belmont Stakes (AL BELLO)
Preakness winner Seize the Grey is led off the track at Saratoga by trainer D. Wayne Lukas after training for the Belmont Stakes (AL BELLO)

Kentucky Derby winner Mystik Dan and Preakness winner Seize the Grey square off Saturday in the Belmont Stakes, the final jewel in US flat racing's Triple Crown.

The 156th edition of the Belmont Stakes will have a different look. Renovations at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York, have prompted a temporary shift to Saratoga Race Course in Saratoga Springs, where "The Test of the Champion" usually run over 1 1/2 miles on the sweeping Belmont track will be shortened to 1 1/4 miles.

Mystik Dan, trained by Kenny McPeek, will be the only horse to contest all three Triple Crown races this year.

The colt ran second to the D. Wayne Lukas-trained Seize the Grey in the Preakness, but it's Derby runner-up Sierra Leone, trained by Chad Brown, that was made the early 9-5 Belmont favorite after drawing the ninth post in the 10-horse field.

"He bounced out of the Derby, which can obviously be a tough race on horses," said Brown, who also hopes a change in jockey to US-based Frenchman Flavien Prat will provide a boost.

"Obviously, we have half as many horses to run down, so that should be hopefully a little easier on him," said Brown after Sierra Leone came up short by less than a nose in a thrilling three-way photo finish in the Derby at Churchill Downs on May 4.

"As long as we're prepared for him and he runs straight, he should run big," Brown said.

Lukas, at 88 the oldest trainer to saddle a Triple Crown race-winner, said Seize the Grey was mentally and physically ready for the Belmont challenge three weeks after his Preakness win.

"I'm watching him mentally the last two weeks and watching him today, there's no reason why we won't get that same effort or better," Lukas said this week. "No reason at all."

But trainer Todd Pletcher's Mindframe, undefeated in two career starts against lesser opposition, has been touted as a threat to more seasoned runners.

- Enormous talent -

Pletcher put Mindframe's lack of races down to "baby setbacks," but he was impressive in a wire-to-wire claiming victory at Churchill Downs on the same day as the Kentucky Derby.

Whether he will stack up against this higher quality field is, Pletcher said, "the $2 million question."

"He obviously has enormous talent, but he has run in a maiden race and a mile-and-a-sixteenth allowance race," Pletcher told Daily Racing Form. "He's running against the best 3-year-olds in the crop.

"They're all more seasoned and more experienced than him. It's asking a lot, but you're talking about a horse that's not only winning by impressive margins but running pretty fast times as well.

"(Speed) figures suggest he certainly fits with the top of the group."

One possible concern for Pletcher was the status of jockey Irad Ortiz, who was taken to hospital for precautionary X-rays on his left ankle and foot after he was unseated at the start of a race at Saratoga on Thursday. He remained scheduled to ride Mindframe on Saturday.