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Belmont stakes contender Sierra Leone trains Wednesday morning as we look at our best free Belmont Stakes picks.
Belmont stakes contender Sierra Leone trains Wednesday morning at Saratoga Race Course. Photo Credit: Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports.

Highlighted by previous winners of the Triple Crown races and a highly talented sophomore, the 2024 Belmont Stakes has a ton of storylines to get excited about as we break it down with our free Belmont Stakes picks and predictions based on the odds from our best horse racing betting sites.

This year’s 156th running of the Belmont Stakes will defy tradition by relocating to the esteemed Saratoga Race Course instead of its customary venue, Belmont Park, due to ongoing construction. Sierra Leone has emerged as the front-runner according to the Belmont Stakes odds.

This departure from tradition arguably warrants an asterisk beside this year's Belmont Stakes, shifting away from the iconic Belmont Park, renowned for its lengthy, sweeping turns ideal for a 1 1/2-mile dirt race. Instead, the event will unfold at Saratoga Race Course, more accustomed to hosting shorter races, typically at 1 1/8 miles.

Belmont 156 will pose a challenge for its 10 contenders with the classic American distance of 1 1/4 miles. Saratoga frequently hosts races at this distance during its summer meet, featuring prestigious events like the Grade 1 Alabama Stakes, Grade 1 Jockey Gold Cup, and the Grade 1 Travers, known as the premier race for 3-year-olds outside of the Triple Crown.

The adjustment to a slightly shorter distance introduces a new dynamic to handicapping the oldest of the Triple Crown races. While traditional Belmont indicators like pedigree and running style retain their significance, Saratoga provides additional insights into whether favorites like Sierra Leone, Kentucky Derby winner Mystik Dan, Preakness Stakes victor Seize the Grey, or emerging contenders possess the requisite attributes for Triple Crown success.

Despite this deviation from tradition, anticipation for the event remains palpable.

Here are three horses to keep an eye on for reasons good and bad for our top free Belmont Stakes picks and predictions for 2024 at Saratoga Race Course (odds via our best sports betting sites).

Belmont Stakes odds

Here's a look at the updated Belmont Stakes post position list and odds for the 2024 Belmont Stakes. Odds updated Saturday at 9 a.m. ET:

HorseTrainerPost positionCurrent odds
Sierra LeoneChad Brown9+180
MindframeTodd Pletcher10+350
Mystik DanKenny McPeek3+500
Seize the GreyD. Wayne Lukas1+800
ResilienceBill Mott2+1000
AntiquarianTodd Pletcher5+1200
Honor MarieWhit Beckman8+1200
The Wine StewardMike Maker4+1500
DornochDanny Gargan6+1500
ProtectiveTodd Pletcher7+2000

See our full breakdown of the 2024 Belmont Stakes odds here.

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Belmont Stakes picks and predictions

Belmont Stakes favorite: Sierra Leone (Post 9/+180)

Sierra Leone lost the Kentucky Derby by a nose hair to Mystik Dan and the Grade 2 Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct last December to Dornoch by a nose. That’s how close this son of Gun Runner is to being undefeated in his five starts.

In both those races, Sierra Leone displayed an unsettling habit of drifting, which clearly cost him the Derby and likely cost him the Remsen. Even in his two graded-stakes victories: the Risen Star at Fair Grounds and the Blue Grass at Keeneland, Sierra Leone wandered in the stretch. Not something you want to see from a colt who could be on the cusp of greatness in his class.

Sierra Leone’s wanderings sent trainer Chad Brown to the equipment shed for a new bit. He wasn’t finished. In the latest jockey-world example of what-have-you-done-for-me-lately, that unsettling drifting habit cost Tyler Gaffalione – who has those two stakes wins and that Derby second aboard Sierra Leone – his ride. Brown replaced him with Flavien Prat for the Belmont.

We’ll see what Prat can do with a talented, but unfocused, deep closer in a race openly hostile to that genus. Only two closers: Mo Donegal two years ago and Creator in 2016, won the Triple Crown’s third jewel since 2010.

And we’ll see what Prat can do with the likely post-time favorite. When Arcangelo won the Belmont last year, that broke a string of three winning favorites: Mo Donegal (2022), Essential Quality (2021), and Tiz the Law (the pandemic Belmont of 2020 that was contested at 1 1/8 miles). As one of the top colts in his class, Sierra Leone’s wanderings – either to a Triple Crown race victory or another soul-crushing defeat for his connections – is one of the prime storylines of Belmont 156.

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Belmont Stakes long shot: Antiquarian (Post 5/+1200)

In March, Antiquarian was an afterthought, which is the mindset you find horses who finish sixth in a Derby prep; this being the Louisiana Derby. By early May, Antiquarian graduated to intriguing Belmont prospect, which is where you find horses who win the Peter Pan Stakes.

That Grade 3 race on the Derby undercard is a reliable predictor of Belmont success. Since 2010, it’s produced four Belmont winners, including last year’s Arcangelo. And speaking of Arcangelo, four-time Belmont Stakes winning trainer Todd Pletcher has this son of Preservationist on a similar path. Like Arcangelo, Antiquarian didn’t race as a 2-year-old, showed immediate promise early in his sophomore year, then won the Peter Pan.

Antiquarian is 2-1-0 in his four races and that glitchy sixth in the Louisiana Derby came by only four lengths – after he expended much of his energy breaking through the gate before the race. He fits the profile of recent Belmont winners: a stalker with a graded-stakes victory and a pedigree that welcomes 10 furlongs.

Even if he doesn’t break the wire first, Antiquarian checks another Belmont box: value. He’s likely to go off at decent odds which makes him a must-use on all of your exotic vertical tickets (exacta, trifecta, and superfecta). There’s nothing antiquated about all of that.

My pick to win the Belmont Stakes: Mindframe (Post 10/+350)

As we usually do, let’s get Mindframe’s flaws out of the way early. And we start with a considerable flaw – his lack of stakes experience. Nine of the last 10 Belmont winners had a graded-stakes score on their CV. Take it further and you find six of the seven horses who captured the Belmont for their first graded-stakes victory had hit the board in an earlier graded-stakes race. Quality game recognizes quality game.

And in this case – even with only two races under his saddle and none past 1 1/16 miles – Mindframe possesses quality game.

How quality? Mindframe’s two victories came by a combined 21 1/4 lengths. His debut score, a 13 3/4-length boat-race in a March 30 maiden special weight at Gulfstream Park came with a 103 Beyer Speed Figure. That’s the best Beyer in the field. His next victory, a 7 1/2-length romp in a 1 1/16-mile allowance/optional claimer on the Kentucky Derby undercard, could have been bigger. But jockey Irad Ortiz Jr., who will be aboard Saturday, geared him down in the final furlong. That still produced a 97 Beyer.

Mindframe’s sire is Constitution. His sire is Tapit, one of the most decorated stallions this century and a pedigree presence when it comes to the Belmont. Tapit has sired four Belmont winners: Tonalist (2014), Creator (2016), Tapwrit (2017), and Essential Quality (2021). That’s tied for the most in event history.

Now, add Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher to the mix. Not only is Pletcher one of the most successful Belmont trainers in history (see below), but the fact he sees enough in Mindframe to send him from an allowance into a Triple Crown race shows and tells us plenty. Tell us you think this horse is special without telling us you think this horse is special.

We’re listening.

Belmont Stakes info

  • When: Saturday, June 8
  • Post time: 6:41 p.m. ET
  • Where: Saratoga Race Course, Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
  • How to watch: FS1 coverage begins at 10:30 a.m. ET. It moves to FOX from 4-7 p.m. ET, before switching to FS2 from 7-8 p.m. ET

Belmont Stakes betting strategies

What to know for betting the Belmont Stakes

Because of the venue change and the shortened distance, we’re looking for new bread crumbs to follow when handicapping this Belmont. What we do know from looking at typical Belmont winners and from looking at 1 1/4-mile races at Saratoga is pace-pressers and stalkers possess the running style that thrives here. 

You’ll note that leaves out pace-setters. Unless you’re a superhorse like Triple Crown winners American Pharoah or Justify – or a burp-in-the-universe like 38-1 Da’Tara – wiring the field is too big an ask here. Those are the only three horses this century to win a Belmont gate-to-wire. 

You’ll also notice it leaves out closers. Handicapper Noel Michaels analyzed the 24 1 1/4-mile races at Saratoga since 2020. He found that closers were 2-for-24. 

The blueprint for a Belmont Stakes winner is a pace-presser/stalker who can stay close to the leaders, because 13 of the 24 races were won by pressers/stalkers who were within four lengths of the lead at the first call. Michaels discovered that speed horses running within a length of the pace-setter won nine of 24 races – 38%. According to Equibase, 15 of the last 17 Belmont winners were within 4 1/2 lengths of the leader after the first half-mile. 

This benefits horses like Mindframe and The Wine Steward (both pressers), along with Mystik Dan (presser/stalker), and Antiquarian (stalker).

Belmont Stakes trends and stats

  • Hot Toddy: As Bob Baffert is to the Kentucky Derby and D. Wayne Lukas is to the Preakness Stakes, Todd Pletcher is to the Belmont Stakes. The Hall of Fame trainer has won four of these: Rags to Riches (2007), Palace Malice (2013), Tapwrit (2017), and Mo Donegal (2022). This doesn’t include his eight runner-up and four third-place runners. Put it all together and Pletcher horses have hit the board 29% of the time since 2006.
  • Who’s Your Daddy? More than virtually any other race of note, the Belmont carries a pedigree premium. Who’s your daddy matters. Look at the pedigrees of recent Belmont Stakes winners and you find 15 of the last 17 came from a sire who won a Grade 1 race of 1 1/8 miles or farther. This may not play as heavily this year, with the cutback from 1 1/2 miles to 1 1/4 miles, but if your daddy was a sprinter, you’re likely chasing this pack – not leading it.
  • Favorite? The average winning odds in the last 20 Belmont Stakes is 10.38-1, according to Xpressbet. Yes, favorites won five of the last nine editions, but take out Triple Crown winners American Pharoah and Justify, and 15 of the last 19 favorites failed to run to their odds. Five times in the last decade, the winning horse came in at 10-1 or greater odds. A sixth (Tonalist) was 9-1. This encompasses Sir Winston (10.20-1), Creator (16.40-1), Palace Malice (13.80-1), Ruler On Ice (24.75-1), and Drosselmeyer (13-1). 
  • An Inside Job: When Michaels broke down the post-position success for Saratoga’s 1 1/4-mile races dating to 2020, he discovered that horses starting from posts 1-3 found the winner’s circle 54% (13-for-24) of the time. He also found of the 24 most recent 10-furlong winners at Saratoga, seven were speed horses leaving from those inside posts - 1-3. If you want to bet a closer – like favorite Sierra Leone – you want one starting from the outside – posts 7-10. The only two closers to win a 1 1/4-mile race at the Spa since 2020 were closers starting from post 7 or outside.

How to bet on horse racing

Some other general strategies to consider for your Preakness Stakes picks that apply in general when betting on horse racing include:

  • Understanding the basics: Horse racing offers a variety of betting options, but the most common bet is to pick a horse to win, place, or show. A "win" bet means you're betting on a horse to finish first, a "place" bet means you're betting on a horse to finish first or second, and a "show" bet means you're betting on a horse to finish first, second, or third. Additionally, you can bet on multiple horses in different combinations, such as exactas (picking the first and second-place horses in order) or trifectas (picking the first three horses in order).
  • Handicapping the race: Before placing your bets, it's important to do some research and analyze the horses, jockeys, trainers, track conditions, and past performances. Look at factors such as recent form, speed figures, class level, and how well the horse has performed on similar track surfaces and distances. You can also consider factors like post position, workout times, and any changes in equipment or jockey.
  • Placing your bets: Once you've done your research and identified potential winners, it's time to place your bets. Head to the betting window or use a betting app to place your wagers. Be sure to specify the type of bet you're making (win, place, show, exacta, etc.), the horse's program number, and the amount you want to wager. Double-check your bet slip before confirming to ensure accuracy.

Belmont Stakes picks made Xday at X:XX x.m. ET.

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