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Saratoga-area trainer Chad Brown ready for ‘unique opportunity’ of upstate Belmont Stakes

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Chad Brown doesn’t have to take his colt, Sierra Leone, to the Belmont Stakes this year because the Belmont Stakes is coming to them.

“I grew up in the neighborhood,” said Brown, 45, a native of Mechanicville, a town of just over 5,000 people 16 miles southeast of Saratoga Springs.

He told The Washington Post that when he set out to become a trainer, he always dreamed of winning the Travers Stakes at Saratoga Race Course in late summer, something that had previously eluded him.

Horse trainer Chad Brown was all smiles outside his stables at Saratoga Race Course on Tuesday. Jason Senes

He said he “never thought” he’d have a chance to win a Triple Crown race at his hometown track, but thanks to several years of renovations at Belmont Park, it’s now a reality.

“The amazing thing is that the Belmont race is being held at historic Saratoga,” he said, “so this is a very unique opportunity and it’s really incredible to have a favorite to win the race.”

In fact, Sierra Leone, who finished second by a nose in a three-horse photo finish in the Kentucky Derby, is the 9-to-5 favorite on the morning line for Saturday’s race.

His odds are better than those of Derby-winner Mystique Dan (5-1) and Preakness Stakes winner She’s the Grey (8-1).

Much of the support for Sierra Leone is fuelled by the expectation that they would have won the Derby but for a late clash with third-placed Forever Young.

Trainer Chad Brown listens to questions from the New York Post on Tuesday in his office in Stable 52 at Saratoga Race Course. Jason Senes

Flavien Prat will ride Sierra Leone in place of jockey Tyler Gaffalione, who was fined for contacting rival Forever Young.

“It’s hard to speculate on the outcome, but at the very least they didn’t help each other,” Brown said in his office at Stable No. 52. “My horse certainly didn’t help himself by leaning over and not running straight.” [Sierra Leone] “It’s hard to imagine he wouldn’t have won if he’d run in the straight, but that’s horse racing. … The Belmont Stakes will be a nice consolation prize.”

Another notable feature about Saturday’s race is that the race will be run at 1.25 miles at Belmont instead of the usual 1.5 miles.

This extra distance is part of where the race got its nickname, “The Test of Champions,” especially when a horse can win all three races of different distances in the space of five weeks.

Is the 156th Belmont Stakes a lesser test of a champion?

“I guess you could make that argument with the Triple Crown on the line, but it’s still a pretty quality test,” said Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher, who has three horses in the race, Antiquarian (12-1), Protective (20-1) and second-favorite Mind Frame (7-2), all ridden by legendary New York jockey John Velazquez.

This year’s Belmont Stakes will be held as a four-day special at historic Saratoga Race Course due to renovations at Belmont Park. Jason Senes

“It’s going to be a little bit different. I mean, the 1.5-mile Champion Test at the old Big Sandy Belmont Race Track is a very unique race and I wouldn’t compare it to the 1.25-mile at Saratoga,” Brown said. “It’s just a different race. It’s just as hard to win, but it’s different. I don’t think it will change the accomplishment no matter who wins, but it will be unique in its own right.”

One issue that is not up for debate is the enormous benefits that moving the Belmont Stakes to Saratoga for the next two years would bring to the region.

Todd Shimkus, president of the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce, estimates the four-day racing festival this week is expected to bring in more than $50 million.

A statue of Secretariat on the grounds of Saratoga Race Course. After famously winning the Triple Crown in 1973, Secretariat lost the Whitney Stakes at Saratoga Race Course, also known as the “Graveyard of Champions.” Jason Senes

He said the calculation was based on last year’s 40-day convention generating $370 million in sales.

Ten percent of that would be $37 million, but that figure is being revised upward to account for increased attendance and higher local hotel rates.

Those arriving in town early will notice the ubiquitous green flags of Saratoga Race Course’s Belmont Stakes, adorned on 140 light poles at Broadway and Union Avenue.

Also on Wednesday night, the main downtown area of ​​Broadway was closed to traffic for a live concert by Blues Traveler.

As for tickets, they sold out in a flash, just like the horses.

NYRA sold out all general admission seating and hospitality packages for Saturday’s card in just a few days over the winter.

The secondary market offers available but pricey options, including club seating and buffet for $2,460 on Ticketmaster.

NYRA continues to offer full-price single-day general admission and hospitality packages on Thursday, Friday and Sunday.