Dornoch holds off Mindframe to win the 156th Belmont Stakes in an upset

The Triple Crown season is over. Three races, three different winners. No clear star in the making.

Or maybe three of them.

Dornoch etched his name into thoroughbred history by winning the 156th Belmont Stakes, a race run for the first time at Saratoga Race Course in mid-state New York.

At 17-1, not much was thought of the 3-year-old colt who finished 10th in the Kentucky Derby following a fourth in the Blue Grass Stakes. But on Saturday, in a 10-horse field, he challenged Preakness winner Seize the Grey on the front end of the race and as other horses started to fade away, he kept going, winning by a half-length.

Mindframe, who had only run two races coming into the Belmont, finished second, followed by favorite Sierra Leone, whose late-surging style couldn’t make up enough ground. The remainder of the field was Honor Marie, Antiquarian, Protective, Seize the Grey, Kentucky Derby winner Mystik Dan, The Wine Steward and Resilience.

Dornoch paid $37.40 to win.

“He’s one of the top 3-year-olds in the country which is what we thought,” said winning trainer Danny Gargan. “I got him beat in the Blue Grass. [Saturday] we let him run his race and he won. If he gets to run he’ll always be tough to beat.

“The Derby we broke a little slow and we rushed up and we were cut off and that was it for us. We got lucky [Saturday] and had a clean trip.”

Confidence has always been high on the $325,000 purchase, whose ownership group includes the former Dodgers outfielder Jason Werth as a minority partner.

“No one believed in this horse, but those last two races were throw out races,” Gargan said. “I told [jockey] Luis [Saez] they wouldn’t beat him [Saturday].”

Saez was equally as confident but premature in his prediction.

“I never I never lose faith in him,” Saez said. “When I rode this horse for the first time last year at Saratoga, I told Danny you have the Derby winner. Unfortunately [that didn’t happen]. I was pretty confident we could win this race.”

Clearly there was no Triple Crown on the line at this year’s Belmont Stakes, but if the same horse had won the first two races there would have been a huge discussion about a possible Triple Crown containing an asterisk. The Belmont Stakes is usually a 1½-mile race, called the test of champions. It might be the only time in a horse’s life that they will run 1½ miles on the dirt.

With the race moving to Saratoga because of major construction at Belmont Park, the race was made 1¼ miles, the same distance as the Kentucky Derby. Since the circumference of Saratoga is smaller than it is at Belmont, the New York Racing Assn. decided to shorten the race so that the horses wouldn’t have to break on a turn.

The race will be at Saratoga next year, too.

While there were no California horses in the Belmont Stakes, Bob Baffert-trained horses made their mark in the undercard. National Treasure proved to be very dominant in winning the $1-million Metropolitan Mile by 6¼ lengths. The 4-year-old has clearly emerged as the best horse in Baffert’s barn with wins in last year’s Preakness Stakes and this year’s Pegasus World Cup. He was second in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Mile, losing by a nose to Cody’s Wish, who went on to win Horse of the Year.

Baffert was not in New York but stayed in Southern California.

“That was absolutely amazing,” said Jimmy Barnes, Baffert’s top assistant. “National Treasure was going super good going into this race and training very well. We just needed to get him out of the gate and point him in the right direction. He was getting heavy pressure early but it was no match for him. He put him away.”

The pressure was coming from Hoist to Gold, who finished third. White Abarrio, winner of the Breeders’ Cup Classic, was never a factor, finishing fifth in the six-horse race.

National Treasure had been off for 105 days since finishing fourth in the Saudi Cup in February. The colt paid $4.70 to win. Post Time finished second.

“He came back from Saudi in great shape and we just gave him plenty of time,” Barnes said. “The horse likes a lot of time between races.”

Baffert had two other horses on Saturday’s stakes-rich card. Prince of Monaco finished second in the $500,000 Woody Stephens Stakes at seven furlongs. Prince of Monaco was making his first start of the year after finishing fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile on Nov. 3.

He had rough start in Saturday’s race but might have been most impressive making up almost 14 lengths in the last three-eighths of a mile. He lost by half a length to Book ‘em Dano.

“The horse beside me stumbled out of [the gate] and hit my hind-end,” said jockey Flavien Prat, who also rode National Treasure. “I lost a couple of lengths there. After that we regrouped and he made a nice run.”

Imagination, coming off a disappointing seventh-place finish in the Preakness, was equally disappointing on Saturday, finishing seventh in the 11-horse race.

All three of the Baffert horses have the same core ownership group.

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