5 Reasons Why Sierra Leone is The 2024 Belmont Stakes Favorite

Horse Racing

In horse racing, few events capture the imagination as intensely as the Belmont Stakes. This legendary race, known as the “Test of the Champion,” challenges even the most seasoned horses and jockeys.

As the 2024 Belmont Stakes approaches, one name is on everyone's lips: Sierra Leone. With a remarkable blend of speed, endurance, and an impressive track record, Sierra Leone emerges as the horse to watch.

Below, we will examine the top five reasons Sierra Leone is poised to capture the coveted title and etch its name in racing history.

Unparalleled Track Record

Winning the Belmont Stakes is a prestigious accomplishment that signifies a horse's endurance, speed, and exceptional training. An unparalleled track record is key to predicting success at this event.

Historical performance is an essential indicator, providing insights into a horse's ability to handle the unique challenges the Belmont Park track poses. Horses with a strong track record often attract more interest from bettors, enhancing the excitement surrounding Belmont Stakes wagers.

Thus, a horse's track record is not just a statistic but a testament to its potential to clinch victory in one of the most competitive arenas in horse racing.

Sierra Leone's performance in previous races has been nothing short of spectacular. This horse has proven its mettle on the track with two consecutive wins and impressive timing. Of the five races Sierra Leone has participated in, he has won three and finished second twice.

Superior Breeding

Sierra Leone is an offspring of a lineage of successful racehorses in the industry. His sire, Gun Runner, has garnered widespread acclaim as one of the finest racehorses of his generation.
Gun Runner began his career with consecutive victories, winning a mile race at Churchill Downs and a 1 1/16 mile race at Keeneland Race Course under the guidance of trainer Steve Asmussen.

He concluded his 2-year-old season with a courageous fourth-place finish on a muddy track in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs in November 2015. As a sire, Gun Runner has passed down his speed, stamina, and competitive spirit to his progeny, making them formidable contenders on the track.

On the dam side, Sierra Leone inherits the legacy of Heavenly Love. Known for her elegance and grace on the racetrack, Heavenly Love clinched significant wins like the Darley Alcibiades. Her performance showcased her versatility and tenacity, which she has imparted to Sierra Leone.

Experienced Jockey

A jockey's skill set includes more than just the ability to ride a horse. It encompasses knowing the horse's temperament, employing strategic thinking, and making split-second decisions under pressure.

That said, Sierra Leone’s trainer, Chad Brown, has made a crucial pre-race decision that could significantly impact the race's outcome. This decision involves switching jockeys from Tyler Gaffalione to Flavien Prat.

Prat has won two Triple Crown wins, securing victories in the 2019 Kentucky Derby with Country House and the 2021 Preakness Stakes aboard Rombauer.

Additionally, he has earned five victories in the Breeders’ Cup: the 2016 Turf Sprint with Obviously (IRE), the 2017 Dirt Mile on Battle of Midway, the 2019 Juvenile riding Storm the Court, the 2022 Classic on Flightline, and the 2023 Juvenile Fillies Turf with Hard to Justify.

Exceptional Trainer

Preparation is key to success in horse racing, and Sierra Leone has been meticulously cared for by a top-tier trainer.

Chad Brown trains Sierra Leone. Brown made his Kentucky Derby debut in 2013 with Normandy Invasion, securing a commendable fourth-place finish. He has won in prestigious races like the Arlington Million and Sword Dancer Stakes.

However, his most notable achievement came during the 2014 Breeders' Cup, where he clinched three wins, including Lady Eli's triumph in the Juvenile Fillies, Bobby's Kitten's victory in the Turf Sprint, and Dayatthespa and Stephanie's Kitten finishing first and second in the Filly & Mare Turf.

In 2015, Brown and Wavell Avenue won the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint, and Stephanie's Kitten won the Filly and Mare Turf. In 2016, he and New Money Honey won the Juvenile Fillies Turf, and in 2017, Rushing Fall won it once more, giving him his ninth Breeders' Cup triumph.

Brown's impressive streak continued at the 2017 Breeders' Cup, where his colt Good Magic won the Sentient Jet Juvenile, emerging as a top Kentucky Derby contender. Following his remarkable 2016 season, Chad Brown was honored with the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Trainer.

Strategic Race Tactics

Racing is not just about speed. It's also about strategy. Chad Brown has developed tailored race plans that maximize the horse's capabilities while considering the unique challenges of the Belmont Stakes course.

Sierra Leone tested a new bit and covered half a mile in 49.44 seconds on the Oklahoma training track in Saratoga. Working alongside Tampa Bay Derby winner Domestic Product, Sierra Leone completed the last quarter in 24.32 seconds and five furlongs in 1:02.55, as timed by Daily Racing Form clocker Mike Welsch.

The new bit is a straight bar, unlike the “D-bit,” which features a slight bend and is designed to give jockeys better control over horses that tend to veer off course. This issue was evident last December when Sierra Leone veered in during the final stretch of the Grade 2 Remsen, despite initially leading but ultimately surpassed by Dornoch.

Brown tried using the cage bit during winter training but found it ineffective for Sierra Leone. Instead, he opted to add blinkers to the horse’s equipment, resulting in wins in the Grade 2 Risen Star at Fair Grounds and the Grade 1 Blue Grass at Keeneland.

Final Thoughts

As the excitement mounts for the 2024 Belmont Stakes, Sierra Leone stands out as a formidable contender. With an outstanding track record, superior breeding, an experienced jockey, exceptional training, and strategic race tactics, it's no wonder why Sierra Leone is the favorite for this highly-anticipated race.