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

Dornoch, (6), with Luis Saez up, crosses the finish line ahead of Mindframe (10), with Irad Ortiz Jr.
Dornoch with Luis Saez riding, crosses the finish line ahead of Mindframe to win the 156th running of the Belmont Stakes at Saratoga Race Course on Saturday. (Julie Jacobson / Associated Press)

In a Triple Crown year in which the unpredictable became the predictable, it was only fitting that the winner of the 156th Belmont Stakes was a long shot.

Forgotten was a Kentucky Derby where the morning-line favorite (Fierceness) finished 15th and Mystik Dan won by a nose likely because the second- and third-place horses kept bumping into each other down the stretch.

Not forgotten is 88-year-old trainer Wayne Lukas winning his seventh Preakness with Seize the Grey, a horse with more than 2,500 owners and a jockey who was an apprentice last year.

And on Saturday, Dornoch, whose last two races could charitably be called underwhelming, pulled a major upset at 17-1 to etch his name in the history of thoroughbred racing by winning the Belmont Stakes.

One other thing. The 1½-mile Belmont Stakes was actually run at 1 ¼ miles and the race wasn’t run at its namesake Belmont but at Saratoga.

Whew. What a year.

Seize the Grey and Mystik Dan were also in Saturday’s Belmont but finished seventh and eighth.

Regardless if this was good or bad for a sport that is starved for stars and scrambling for relevance, it was good for trainer Danny Gargan and jockey Luis Saez. It was Gargan’s first Triple Crown race win and the second for Saez, both in the Belmont Stakes.

The race started as expected with both Dornoch and Seize the Grey going for the lead. In the Preakness, Seize the Grey was able to maintain that lead for the win. But on Saturday, he started to falter on the far turn. That left Dornoch in front with a better-than-expected Mindframe chasing with resolve and the favorite, Sierra Leone, starting to unwind his late charge. With a half-mile to go, Sierra Leone was 10th in a field of 10. By the top of the stretch, he was third, a position he never improved upon.

Jockey Luis Saez celebrates after riding Dornoch to victory in the Belmont Stakes on Saturday.

"We wanted to be on the lead,” Gargan told the New York Racing Assn. press office. “In the Derby the one-hole got us. He broke a touch slow. Right after, Brian [Hernandez on Mystik Dan] came over and we got checked out of there. It's game over then [and we finished 10th].

“Three days later, we got him up [to Saratoga] and pointed for this race. We trained him and tried to do everything the best we could. He was training phenomenal. He worked great here. We got overlooked a little bit because he ran one bad race. Now, they'll look at us a little more next time, hopefully.”

The final order of finish, after Dornoch was Mindframe, Sierra Leone, Honor Marie, Antiquarian, Protective, Seize the Grey, Mystik Dan, The Wine Steward and Resilience. Dornoch paid $37.40 to win.

“I’m still taking it in, it’s pretty exciting,” Gargan said. “It's a special thing just to be a part of these races, not to mention to win one with a horse you bought at Keeneland and have had it for its whole [racing] life. I spend so much time with him and my staff has done such a great job with him.”

Saez was pretty sure Dornoch would get the lead but it didn’t work out that way.

"You are always going to have a Plan B,” Saez said. “The plan was to try to take the lead, but we couldn't. We were in the perfect spot so I just let him be comfortable. He did what he was supposed to do. He finished pretty well."

Randy Hill and Dean Reeves are the principal owners of Dornoch. Former Dodgers outfielder Jayson Werth owns a 10% stake but was celebrating in the winner’s circle like it was all his.

Dornoch co-owner Jayson Werth, center, holds up the August Belmont Memorial Cup.
Dornoch co-owner Jayson Werth, center, holds up the August Belmont Memorial Cup after Dornoch's win in the Belmont Stakes on Saturday. (Julia Nikhinson / Associated Press)

The race was run at Saratoga because of major construction at Belmont. The New York Racing Assn. decided to shorten the race to the Kentucky Derby distance of 1 ¼ miles so that the horses wouldn’t have to break on a turn. The circumference of Saratoga is smaller than it is at Belmont, so that’s why the move was made.

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 on the undercard. National Treasure proved to be very dominant in winning the $1 million Metropolitan Mile by 6 1/4 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.

“He’s a good horse and in his last couple of works, he tipped me off that ‘Hey, I’m back,’” Baffert said from Southern California. “I’m proud of the horse. When he shows up, he’s super. I’m proud of him and my team.”

Dornoch stands in the winner's circle after winning the 156th running of the Belmont Stakes on Saturday.
Dornoch stands in the winner's circle after winning the 156th running of the Belmont Stakes on Saturday. (Julia Nikhinson / Associated Press)

The horse was handled by Jimmy Barnes, Baffert’s top assistant.

National Treasure had been off for 105 days since fourth in the Saudi Cup in February. The colt paid $4.70 to win. Post Time finished second. Breeders’ Cup Classic Winner White Abarrio finished fifth of six horses.

Baffert had two other horses on Saturday’s stakes-rich Belmont card. Prince of Monaco finished second in the $500,000 Woody Stephens Stakes, for horses going 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 may 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 Danno.

“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.”

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

Where the top 3-year-olds will end up next is unknown, but it’s pretty clear it will be on the East Coast. There is the Haskell Stakes at Monmouth on July 20 and the Travers Stakes at Saratoga on Aug. 24.

Will the different winner streak go to five or will a star start to emerge?

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.