Dornoch wins the first Belmont Stakes run at Saratoga Race Course

SARATOGA SPRINGS, New York — When Luis Saez first rode Dornoch at Saratoga Race Course last summer, he told trainer Danny Gargan, “You have the Derby winner.”

While that did not come true, Dornoch made good on that optimism Saturday by winning the first Belmont Stakes at Saratoga, hugging the rail and holding off Mindframe to spring a major upset in the Triple Crown finale at odds of 17-1.

The horse co-owned by World Series champion Jayson Werth won the Belmont five weeks after a troubled trip led to a 10th-place finish in the Kentucky Derby. This time, Dornoch sat off leader Seize the Grey, passed the Preakness winner down the stretch and held on for a 1 1/2-length victory.

“I would put it right up there with winning on the biggest stage. Horse racing is the most underrated sport in the world, bar none,” said Werth, who won Major League Baseball’s championship with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2008. “It’s the biggest game: You get the Derby, the Preakness, the Belmont. We just won the Belmont. This is as good as it gets in horse racing. It’s as good as it gets in sports.”

It’s the first win in any Triple Crown race for Gargan and the second in the Belmont for Saez, who said he never lost faith in Dornoch.

“He’s one of the top 3-year-olds in the country, and we’ve always thought it,” Gargan said. “We let him run his race, and he won. If he gets to run, he’s always going to be tough to beat.”

It’s the sixth consecutive year a different horse won each of the three Triple Crown races. Sierra Leone, the Derby runner-up who went off as the favorite, was third and Honor Marie fourth.

Dornoch paid $37.40 to win, $17.60 to place and $8.10 to show. Todd Pletcher-trained Mindframe paid $6.80 to place and $4.20 to show and Sierra Leone paid $2.60 to show after a jumbled start and more directional problems.

There were no such issues for Dornoch, who triumphed at the track known as the graveyard of favorites for its penchant for upsets.

“No one believed in this horse,” Gargan said. “It’s speechless. He’s such a talented horse.”

Despite there not being a Triple Crown on the line, it’s a historic Belmont because the race was run at Saratoga for the first time in the venue’s 161-year history. It returns next year while Belmont Park undergoes a massive, $455 million reconstruction with the plan for the Triple Crown race to go back to the New York track in 2026.

Having it at Saratoga necessitated shortening the race to 1 1/4 miles from the usual “test of the champion” 1 1/2-mile distance that has been a hallmark of the Belmont for nearly a century. The temporary change contributed to getting more quality horses into the field who previously ran in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness or both. At 1 1/4-mile distance, Dornoch crossed the wire in a time of 2:01.64.