Horse Racing
Belmont Stakes shifts to 'Graveyard of Champions'; Could it benefit Sierra Leone?
Horse Racing

Belmont Stakes shifts to 'Graveyard of Champions'; Could it benefit Sierra Leone?

Updated Jun. 6, 2024 3:52 p.m. ET

With Belmont Park undergoing a whopping $455 million renovation over the next two calendar years, Saturday’s Belmont Stakes has migrated to the legendary Saratoga Race Course in eastern New York.

You can watch the action on FOX and the FOX Sports App.

Kentucky Derby winner Mystik Dan will be a popular pick, as will Preakness winner Seize the Grey, the current morning line favorite at 2/1. But the first thing you must do before betting the race is understand the track.

"Saratoga is the mecca of horse racing," veteran horse handicapper Kirk Rockwell told FOX Sports. "There’s a reason they call it the Graveyard of Champions. The course is really deep, which helps the closers.


"If you run too fast on that track, you’re gonna die out. There’s a reason Secretariat lost at Saratoga after he won the Triple Crown."

This bodes well for deep closers like Sierra Leone, Rockwell’s top horse given the circumstances. 

Remember, Sierra Leone closed like a speeding bullet down the stretch at the Derby and lost by a nose to Mystik Dan.

Despite a brutal post position and an even worse start out of the chute, Sierra Leone still almost recovered and chased down a last-second victory.

"Sierra Leone was the [2] at Churchill and Tyler [Gaffalione] put him in a bad spot early," Rockwell said. "He was about ten wide coming around the turn and he was just flying. If that race is another 50 yards, he wins.

"He’s 5/2 on the morning line and that’ll drop by the weekend. I don’t think it bottoms to even money, but he’s the class of the race in my mind. He’s beaten everybody except Mystik Dan and almost clipped Mystik Dan at the wire. If you can bet fixed odds now, it’s definitely worth it at 5/2.

"I’ve had so many conversations over the years about betting favorites. Some guys don’t want to bet a horse at 9/5 or 5/2. They want to bet long shots because they see the payouts. The right favorite can be undervalued.

"There’s only ten horses in this race and it’s a good draw. He’s a great closer and if he stays up and doesn't sit too far back, he’ll be fine."

Sierra Leone’s owner Chad Brown also pulled the ol’ switcheroo and replaced Gaffalione with Flavien Prat, a move that Rockwell beams about.

"It’s a huge move," he said. "Flavien [Prat] is great, he’s a big-time rider. He’s a world-class jockey who shows up at events like this. It was necessary for Chad Brown to make that switch. I love Prat in this spot."

Other horses Rockwell fancies at the Belmont are Derby winner [3] Mystik Dan, long shot [4] The Wine Steward and speedster [8] Mindframe.

Mystik Dan isn’t as "sexy" as he was heading into the Preakness last month, when he closed just shy of 5/2. It was a deep drop from his 18/1 price at the Derby and that’s what happens when everybody wants a piece.

"I kept going back and forth on Mystik Dan at the Derby," Rockwell recalled. "I watched him run well in the rain a couple of times, which changes the complete conditions of the track. He won some great showings in the slot.

"So, of course, it rained Derby weekend and the track got sloppier and sloppier. Everything was lining up for him, but I had already put all my bets in and didn’t wind up using him. It’s just one of those things, man."

Meanwhile, The Wine Steward is currently 17/1.

Hey now.

"He could easily get there," Rockwell predicted. "He’s 6-for-6 finishing first or second. He’s got the speed and should be first or second coming out of the gate. He’s worth a shot at 15-1 to hit the board with your exotics."

What’s the move for Saturday?

"Let’s go 9-3-4-10," Rockwell prognosticated as I jotted down the four numbers on a piece of paper and drew a big circle around them.

"I’ll do a $2 exacta box for $24. That gives you the favorite, a long shot and two middlers. You need any combo to finish first and second. If the 4 wins and the 9 gets second, we’re talking about a monster ticket." 

Sam Panayotovich is a sports betting analyst for FOX Sports and NESN. He previously worked for WGN Radio, NBC Sports and VSiN. He'll probably pick against your favorite team. Follow him on Twitter @spshoot. 

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