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Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Three Pletcher Horses Prove They’re Ready for Next Saturday’s Belmont Stakes at Saratoga

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SARATOGA SPRINGS — Todd Pletcher, the renowned trainer, was full of cliches as he discussed the training⁢ of his‌ Belmont Stakes horses on Saturday. Interestingly, he⁢ had more cliches‌ than the number of horses ​he has for the Belmont Stakes.

That’s quite a statement,‍ considering he’s planning to send three horses to the ​starting gate ⁤for the 156th ‌Belmont next Saturday ⁢at⁢ the prestigious Saratoga Race Course.

Despite his disappointment of not being able to run the 2023 2-year-old ⁤male ⁣champion Fierceness in ⁤the Belmont due ​to his incomplete recovery from the Kentucky Derby, Pletcher still has a strong lineup for ⁢the Belmont.‌ This includes‌ two horses‍ that have taken unconventional paths to ‌get here.

Antiquarian, the Grade⁤ III Peter Pan⁣ winner, breezed in company with Be You for four furlongs​ in 49.99⁢ on the Oklahoma Training Track. Meanwhile, ⁢Mindframe ⁤and Protective worked together in 50.26.

“I was quite pleased with⁤ their performance. They executed the breezes⁢ well, moved ⁤smoothly, finished strongly, and galloped ​out well. Basically, they ticked all the boxes‌ that every ⁢trainer would want,” Pletcher said, ‌laughing. “They’re all on track.”

While Antiquarian is a ​graded ‍stakes winner, his ‌stablemates,⁢ Mindframe and Protective, have somewhat unusual resumes for Belmont runners.

Mindframe has never ⁢participated in a stakes race,‌ let alone won one, and Protective is still a maiden after four ⁤career starts.

However, Mindframe, despite being lightly​ raced, has shown promise in his two starts, including an allowance on the Kentucky Derby undercard⁢ at Churchill Downs,‍ which he ‍won by a whopping 7 1/2 lengths.

Protective, on the other hand, has placed‍ twice​ in stakes, finishing third ​in the Peter Pan and⁣ in the Grade II Wood Memorial won by ⁤Resilience.

“I believe‍ that all three horses will appreciate the mile-and-a-quarter distance,” Pletcher ⁤said.​ “We’ve always felt that way about Protective and Antiquarian. Mindframe has shown great aggression in his ​two races. ⁣The question is⁣ whether he has the seasoning to compete against these horses⁤ that have been running in big races.

Four⁢ other horses aiming for the Belmont completed their final breezes⁤ at Saratoga on Saturday. Additionally, Honor Marie, the Kentucky Derby eighth-place⁢ finisher, ​worked four furlongs in 48.40 at⁣ Churchill Downs.

Derby winner Mystik Dan continued his preparation with a five-furlong work in 1:01.59, enhanced ⁢by a‌ strong gallop-out after the Oklahoma finish pole. He worked alongside stablemate Gould’s‌ Gold.

“That’s a typical maintenance routine ⁢for us, any horse, coming back in three weeks,” trainer Kenny ‌McPeek said, referring to Mystik Dan’s second-place⁢ finish ‌to ‌Seize the ​Day⁢ in the Preakness on May 18.

“And he might⁢ actually‍ be acting like⁤ his energy ‌level might be getting higher ​from Derby to Preakness to Belmont,⁤ which is what ‌you’ve got to have. He’s eating super up here. I think he likes the cooler weather, and⁢ he’s ⁤loved ⁤the ‍racetrack.”

McPeek said his feedback from the New⁢ York Racing Association ⁤clockers⁢ on the main track‍ indicates that that surface has been⁢ playing faster than⁢ the Oklahoma’s.

He wanted Mystik Dan’s final serious work to maintain fitness, not speed, but he’ll send his ⁢Derby winner to the main track for some easy galloping this week.

The potential Belmont favorite, Derby runner-up Sierra⁣ Leone, breezed five‍ furlongs in ⁢company with Domestic Product ⁣in​ 1:02.64 on the Oklahoma.

Trainer Chad Brown is also looking to get Tuscan⁤ Gold to the Belmont, and sent him to the main track⁣ in company with the ⁣unraced Clever Mischief for four furlongs in 48.28.

“I cut him⁤ back to a half a mile,” ⁣Brown said of⁣ Sierra Leone. ⁤“The horse is very⁣ fit. He’s⁤ doing great, so I just wanted to do something and let him gallop out, and‍ he did it super.”

He said⁢ Tuscan Gold, fourth in the Preakness,‍ has ‍been training on the main track in part ​to ensure that​ he’ll run well on the​ surface, ‍after Tuscan Gold​ struggled with ​a muddy ​track at Pimlico.

“I’ll talk to the ownership group ‍if⁢ we‌ want to wheel him right back, but right​ now I’m leaning toward running him,” Brown said. ⁣“This particular horse, ⁤since I ⁤got him out of the Preakness, I trained him on the​ main, and he took a hold of it. For a horse who’s coming off a race where he didn’t ‍get a hold of⁣ the‌ track at Pimlico in the mud, I wanted to get him on the track that he’s actually going to‌ run on.”

Sierra Leone has galloped‌ over the main, and schooled ‍in the starting ‌gate this week.

Brown dispelled any notion that Sierra Leone⁤ has gate issues.

“The horse is perfect,” ‍he said. “He had one bad day in⁣ his life at the gate, at Keeneland when the crowd was a foot from him. I still school him at the gate, but it ​was⁤ way, way blown out of proportion. He’s one​ of my better⁢ gate horses, ⁤and I ⁢train 250 horses, so …”

Trainer Bill Mott has added Resilience to the Belmont conversation late in the​ game, and he’ll breeze on Sunday.

Seize the ⁤Day⁢ was scheduled to arrive in Saratoga ⁢from Kentucky⁣ Saturday evening.

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Jack Sullivan
Jack Sullivan
Jack Sullivan, an informed and passionate sports reporter, is a former college athlete with a degree in Sports Communication from Ithaca College. Go Bombers!
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