Belmont at Saratoga means shortening the 3rd Triple Crown race, but most are OK with that

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. — The Belmont Stakes is the final test of the Triple Crown — the third resume booster to edge a horse into the history books. It's not an easy feat.

The third leg is the longest of the three races at 1½ miles and requires a horse with endurance to handle it. There have been 36 Triple Crown-eligible horses heading into the Belmont, and only 13 have secured the third jewel.

This year, with it happening at Saratoga Race Course instead of Belmont Park, the shape of the track makes it implausible to run it at 1½ miles, so it's being shortened to 1¼ miles — the same distance as the Kentucky Derby. It's a change but not one that retired jockey and Fox Sports racing analyst Richard Migliore believes deserves an asterisk for the winner.

"It takes nothing away from the event whatsoever," Migliore said. "It's an American classic race that's tough to win. Winning races at the Grade I level, at any distance, whether it's 5 furlongs or 2 miles, is extremely tough."

Changing the distance is nothing new for the Belmont, which has been run at various lengths since the first edition in 1867. Going 1½ miles has been a mainstay since 1927, though it was shortened to 1⅛ miles in 2020 when it led off the out-of-order Triple Crown because of the pandemic.

This year, it's just a quarter-of-a-mile change, but it has been a major factor in the horses' entry for the stakes.

Derby winner Mystik Dan is set to run in the Belmont, but trainer Kenny McPeek said he probably would not have run him at the traditional distance.

"I'd rather it be a mile and a quarter than a mile and a half," McPeek said. "I could see not taking him down to Belmont and running him at a mile and a half."

The 9-5 opening favorite Sierra Leone was a nose behind Mystik Dan in the Kentucky Derby. Trainer Chad Brown was unsure about the regular distance, but once it was announced it'd be shorter, he entered the horse.

"It made a decision very easy," Brown said. "It looks like he has unbelievable stamina. But it still doesn't necessarily mean I think he's a mile-and-a-half horse. ... Much more appealing at the mile-and-a-quarter distance."

The shorter distance is not appealing for all trainers. Todd Pletcher, who has won the Belmont four times, would've preferred the normal distance. Pletcher has three entries in the 10-horse field, including 7-2 second choice Mindframe.

"We'd probably have two more in it," Pletcher said. "I miss the mile-and-a-half part of it. Part of it is selfish because I've had success at that distance. I do appreciate that it is the real test in a mile and a half. But how could you not embrace having a great race at Saratoga."

The distance change is temporary for the next two years before the race is set to return to remade Belmont Park in 2026, following $455 million in renovations. It is then expected to go back to being the 1½-mile "test of the champion" that it has been known as for nearly a century.

"In a perfect world, yes, I would like to see it a mile and a half," Migliore said. "I don't think it distracts from the race itself being shortened up."


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