Once-In-A-Lifetime Stop At Saratoga Sets Up Once-In-A-Lifetime Belmont Stakes Experience

Written By Dave Bontempo on May 31, 2024 - Last Updated on June 6, 2024
Horse racing starting gate at Saratoga Race Course, which will host the 2024 Belmont Stakes.

Magic is in the air – about 200 miles north of Elmont.

Majestic Saratoga Springs takes center stage for the 2024 Belmont Racing Festival next week while the classic Belmont Park oval unveils a two-year construction overhaul.

This is the first time the Belmont Stakes has ever shifted to Saratoga Race Course. It moved to Aqueduct between 1963-67, while Belmont underwent renovations.

Fans and bettors enthusiasts can embrace what Saratoga brings to the Belmont and the New York racing summer in this miniature meet. There are 24 stakes races worth more than $10 million, highest in the history of the racing festival that began in 2014.

Action takes shape around the $2 million Belmont Stakes, featuring the nation’s top 3-year-old thoroughbreds, on June 8.

Here’s the overview.

What Saratoga brings to the Belmont Stakes

First and foremost: The adjusted, novel distance of the 2024 Belmont Stakes will lure a signature field.

Saratoga will unfurl a 1 ¼-mile track, a quarter of a mile shorter than the classic distance found only at the Elmont oval. The shortened route has enticed more trainers to enter their horses, unconcerned about the grueling 1 ½-mile test just three weeks after the Preakness Stakes.

D. Wayne Lukas, the Hall of Fame trainer for Preakness-winning Seize The Grey, has cast doubt that he would have placed his horse in the longer race because Seize The Grey had previously struggled at 1 ¼ miles. But at this distance, and on the heels of a victory at Preakness that is just a touch shorter, it’s game on.

For the first time since Justify snared the Triple Crown sweep at Belmont Park in 2018, the Belmont Stakes may feature both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winners.

Seize The Grey and Mystik Dan, the Derby champion, are slated to go at the time of this post. The field won’t become official until the Monday draw, as well as the final couple of days which can yield late scratches.

Sierra Leone, who missed winning the Derby by a flared nostril, is expected to go off as the favorite. Fierceness, the beaten Kentucky Derby favorite, is considered a strong possibility to start.

All told, the best of the best 3-year-olds over the first half of 2024 might be assembled at the Saratoga starting gate. This could be an All-Star game in its own rite.

Breaking down prices for a unique Belmont Stakes

Betting odds won’t become official until post time, but Mystik Dan has a chance to return huge value. He won a Kentucky Derby photo finish and was a strong second to Seize the Grey in the Preakness.

Yet the presence of Sierra Leone and Fierceness dropped his projected odds to 15-1. If he is 10-1 or higher, this is substantial value on the Derby winner and Preakness bridesmaid. Mystik Dan, if he runs, will be the only horse to compete in all three Triple Crown legs.

The big field, enabled by the distance, will keep betting values high.

Sneak peek at the Travers

There’s another subtle reason trainers may enter their horses in this Belmont.

The 1 ¼-mile distance is the same as the Travers – a high-level, $1.25 million event with Eclipse Award implications. It unfolds Aug. 24 at Saratoga.

Getting to race over the track at a comparable distance to the Travers will be viewed as a nice perk for any horse.

What a weekend: Belmont tradition preserved at Saratoga

The Belmont Festival has become its own niche.

In prior years, a two-year reduction from Belmont’s 90,000-fan capacity to Saratoga’ 50,000 would hamper handle. But the advent of mobile NY horse betting opens the gambling lanes to everyone in the state.

That’s a major counter-stroke for track officials.

New York Racing Association officials had already made one of the industry’s most innovative administrative decisions in a couple of decades when they rolled out the Belmont festival in 2014. Knowing that handle was substantially less during a year with no Triple Crown possibility, they created a mini-Breeders’ Cup day to entice gamblers.

Other racetracks picked up this move and many now bookend their major Saturday events with blockbuster support races.

Belmont grew its own concept to a four-day festival.

Here’s what’s on tap this year.

Thursday, June 6Belmont Gold CupGrade II$250,000Turf
Jersey Girl$150,000Dirt
Friday, June 7New YorkGrade I$750,000Turf
AcornGrade I$500,000Dirt
Just a GameGrade I$500,000Turf
IntercontinentalGrade II$200,000Turf
Saturday, June 8Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA BetsGrade I$2,000,000Dirt
Metropolitan Handicap (BC)Grade I$1,000,000Dirt
Resorts World Casino ManhattanGrade I$1,000,000Turf
Ogden Phipps (BC)Grade I$500,000Dirt
Jaipur (BC)Grade I$500,000Turf
Woody StephensGrade I$500,000Dirt
True NorthGrade II$350,000Dirt
SuburbanGrade II$350,000Dirt
PokerGrade III$350,000Turf
Sunday, June 9Commentator (NYB)$200,000Dirt
Critical Eye (NYB)$200,000Dirt
Kingston (NYB)$125,000Turf
Mount Vernon (NYB)$125,000Turf
Mike Lee (NYB)$125,000Dirt
Bouwerie (NYB)$125,000Dirt
Beverly R. Steinman SteeplechaseGrade I$150,000Turf

Among the possible entries for the Acorn is Thorpedo Anna, who captured the Kentucky Oaks, the filly equivalent of the Kentucky Derby, earlier this year. Her trainer Ken McPeek set history that weekend because he also saddled Kentucky Derby-winning Mystik Dan. It was the first time a trainer performed an Oaks-Derby sweep since 1952.

Saratoga the site of the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame

This is a bucket-list pilgrimage for many racing fans. Saratoga Race Course is not only considered the oldest sporting venue in the United States, going back to 1863, but the greatest of the greatest are enshrined within walking distance.

The National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame is located right across the street from the racetrack. It operates from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the summer and has admission costs of $20, $15 for Seniors over 65, and free for Veterans.

Why not immerse yourself in the grandeur of horse racing? Museum officials say that 1 ½ to 2 hours is a suitable period of time to experience the hall of fame. Fans can visit the facility and then enjoy a day of live racing.

Many of the 223 horses, 110 jockeys, 110 trainers, and 44 Pillars of the Turf in the hall of fame reached their crowning achievement at the Belmont Stakes. That includes Secretariat, the GOAT of horse-racing, who notched his Triple Crown sweep with a whopping 31-length victory in the 1973 Belmont. His time of 2 minutes, 24 seconds, still stands as the stakes record.

And Justify, who seized the 2018 Belmont to become racing’s last Triple Crown winner, will be enshrined this summer.

What else to find at the hall of fame

The Hall was renovated in 2020 and features, among other things, an immersive theatrical presentation and nine interactive stations containing digital plaques for 478 Hall of Fame members.

There’s a 16-minute film entitled What it Takes: Journey to the Hall of Fame. Less than 1% of the sport’s participants are enshrined here.

This is one benefit Belmont Stakes lovers can gain only by going to Saratoga.

“This is absolutely one of those must-see places if you are a horse racing fan,” Brien Bouyea, director of communications at the hall of fame, told PlayNY. “You come in and watch this movie in 360-degree surround sound and then you can find something on every horse enshrined in the Hall of Fame.

“You can go up to Secretariat and not only pull up his statistics, but you can get a race replay of his famous Belmont stretch. There are things you can find on all .

“We even update. D.Wayne Lukas was already in the Hall of Fame but we added to it right after his horse Seize the Grey won the Preakness.”

Photo by Hans Pennink / AP Photo
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Dave Bontempo

Dave Bontempo, a multiple national award-winning boxing commentator and writer, authors NFL betting columns for the Press of Atlantic City and IGaming Player, among others. He writes significantly about the emerging world of legal New Jersey sports betting.

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