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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, JUNE 9, 2024 —  In the end, Belmont 156* was a great horse race as the first three finishers put on quite the show, completing a Triple Crown upset sweep of the 2024 Classics.

The same can be said for the Belmont Stakes Festival, a well-designed aesthetic success that did great business, too.

Dornoch proved the best horse though trip handicappers would be justified to argue that runnerup Mindframe was probably best because of how the race unfolded through the stretch run.

However, it was same-old, same-old for race favorite Sierra Leone as was demonstrated on a track that favored speed, especially several paths within close proximity to the rail.

Dornoch fell through the betting cracks for me and most everyone else. Personally, I was alive in the Pick 5 with the favorite on a $13.50 investment, so I made exacta savers with seven logical contenders, including the winner, obviously to no avail.

I didn’t know what to make of Dornoch’s no-chance Derby trip, like many others. Kudos to those who took an absurd 24-1 proposition straight. Trainer Danny Gargan’s faith was finally rewarded. Gargan had him fresh and fit for the task, which would have been impossible without deft handling of Luis Saez.

It began when Saez gave his horse a vigorous pre-race warmup. Dornoch obliged, breaking sharply to secure an attending position. Into the bridle, Saez took advantage by backing off into stalking position as he and Seize the Grey entertained each other through a lively 22.99, 47.25 early pace.

Taking command at headstretch, Dornach enabled to get separation from Mindframe, all of which he needed as he tired noticeably in the final sixteenth while Mindframe got re-engaged and surged strongly late.. But the game plan engineered by Gargan and Saez worked perfectly.

As the race was run, Mindframe might have been best. He chased the strong fractions throughout the race, his lack of inexperience very likely costing him the victory. His green, lug-out behavior gave the winner the logistical advantage he needed in the wire’s shadow.

It was a remarkable effort. For Mindframe, making his 10-furlong, Grade 1 debut, to chase a strong early pace, drift out at a crucial juncture, only to re-rally and finish a fast-closing second too late, beaten a half-length, makes him a strong contender for sophomore honors the rest of this wide open season.

Two caveats; Mindframe has not met neither of Bob Baffert’s powerhouse pair, Muth and Nysos, nor the filly Thorpedo Anna, who might be the best three-year-old in America.  The second season will determine divisional honors and perhaps a Horse of the Year title, too.

I promised pre-race that if Sierra Leone lost the Belmont he will officially have run out of excuses for me, which turns out to be but not necessarily true. While the bit-blinkers experiment failed to keep him on a straight course, he was mugged twice, once by the runnerup strides away from the gate and again at headstretch by another rival.

Interestingly, the problems were caused by two Todd Pletcher-trained runners, Mindframe and the maiden Protective, ridden by Tyler Gaffalione who bore out, bumping Sierra Leone who finally was gaining momentum. Of course, Gaffalione was replaced on Sierra Leone by Flavien Prat.

When a scopey stretch runner gets ping-ponged away from the barrier, the incident will either cause a loss or focus, take the wind out of them, or both.

The gate incident must have taken some kind of toll. Far back as usual, Prat appeared to have horse on the backside but the colt never got into the bridle until it was too late, losing contact but in an unfamiliar way.

Saratoga two-turn races are very rarely won with 5-6 path sweeps on the far turn. But he had momentum at that point until Protective came out , bumping him at headstretch. We are not suggesting anything sinister was happening here. Maybe Tyler figured, let me get him before he nails me?

Sierra Leone paid him back—along with three other runners. After gaining full stride, he bore in and bumped Protective, who started a chain reaction involving three horses, two of which, fourth- and fifth-place finishers Honor Marie and Antiquarian.

Through the stretch, Sierra Leone lugged in as badly as ever has, but once he was corrected he re-engaged fully and was going best of all at the finish, running straight through the finish line albeit, in a final half-mile that took a pokey :50.97 to complete.

Training this kind of talent must be an incredibly frustrating process but show must continue.

Is Torpedo Anna a legitimate freak that could be remembered in a pantheon of GOAT distaffers? Will Mindframe live up to his upside? Will the Baffert horses return at the levels they’ve shown?

The time is now, let the second season begin.

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4 Responses

  1. What is going on with trying to find any schedules races at either B @ Aqueduct or Saratoga ? I see a scheduled Stakes race but I do not find that Saturday ‘ s entries.! A few days ago one of the columnists made his own post positions on Saturday s biggest race ! I got cold Chic fil-a sandwiches off the drive in x the first time in my life as a devoted customer. The ‘ best coffee shop’ in the area makes lousy, burnt Expresso, I make better Taco salads than where I spent plenty of peso$ for that and a pitcher of warm, flat cerveza, beer……. Golden Gate is no more as I think of that winning rider Baze with a stranger posture than Jean Luc Samyn’s.. Racetracks used to close with plenty of time space between them but now those closures seem to be more frequent than ever before. OTB are just about gone and some older, ingrained gamblers won’t have any other place to hide , gossip and bitch as they’re being babysit by the several screens and smaller on table talevisions with remotes, just like at home , but much costlier… As I keep on lowering the Sport ‘ s future expectations I won’t ever give in to its innumerable, distracting ads and odds about other games.. More than ever before, it feels good to just shut the sport off until better races show up in the remaining worthwhile tracks. But, at least, let the patrons know when you’re open for business: that the least that it is expected, otherwise you lose even them, and as I have learned in the restaurant field , once they feel cheated or not treated deservedly You Will Never See Them Again, ( even before they die or move away!). Rarely bet GG but I remember being on the screen well after the local eastern races, and by then , most bettors were either tired, hungry, broke or just did not want to see any more racing for the day. Enough is enough! RIP., but it had the first I believe, synthetic ( black) track in an area with, maybe ,the best climate in the country ( as far as I remember being there for a while). Who’s Next? Any Odds on that ! ( Ahahahah!!)

    1. Now that racing is back at Belmont, the horse shortage rears it’s ugly head. Betting is now catering to the convenience market as the majority of wagers are placing digitally, also the new reality.

      The closing of racing at GGF was a sad event. I was there once. As stated elsewhere, it was enjoyable race watching and the NoCal vibe was cool. And you’re right. Lamentable GGF won’t be the last.

  2. Mindframe lost because he never had to be asked in his previous 2 races, so he was never hit with the crop in a race when starting to tire before. The fact that he overreacted to it, yet then got himself together and came back again at a seasoned stakes winner to me while being tired is the story of the race, not what happened with SL or Dornach holding on. He showed he is a super fast learner, and has a great demeanor for racing; as soon as his instant reaction was over, he went right back to doing exactly what the jockey asked – no grudge or lasting reaction. That blew me away. I think this one is a major threat the rest of the way, and might be ready for the top of the 4+ division as well by the time we hit the fall season.

    You could do worse than putting a few bucks on him right now in BC Classic futures. I think he’s that good.

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