Mindframe was conceived in Kentucky and spent the earliest parts of his life in Virginia. Over a year after his birth, the colt was sent back to Kentucky to be auctioned and sold for $600,000 to one of the most prominent thoroughbred owners in New York.

But the record books will always tie him to Maryland because this is the state where he entered the world, and with that distinction comes a run at history.

Not since Caveat in 1983 has a Maryland-bred horse won the Belmont Stakes, and not since Magic Weisner in 2002 has a horse from the Old Line State even entered. It just so happens that Caveat’s victory is the last time a Maryland runner won any of the three races that make up the Triple Crown, and he was following an upset victory by local hero Deputed Testamony in that year’s Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course.

Yes, the state had two winners in American racing’s most distinguished series in 1983. In the 41 years since then: zero.

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Making just the third start of his racing career, Mindframe will line up Saturday with a chance to break the decades-long winless streak. He seems to have a decent shot, listed at 7-2 on the morning line, behind only 9-5 favorite Sierra Leone. Handicappers have good reason to believe in his abilities. In his two starts prior to the Belmont, the colt blew away the competition, winning by a combined 21 1/4 lengths.

Still, it is a tall order to jump into your first stakes race and have it be the Belmont Stakes, even if this is not your typical Belmont Stakes. The race will be at historic Saratoga Race Course instead of Belmont Park, which is undergoing a $455 million renovation. It won’t be run at the traditional (and exceedingly rare) 1 1/2-mile distance, which led to the race being known as the “Test of the Champion,” but at a mile and a quarter.

The shorter distance could benefit Mindframe, but it has also contributed to a stronger field that includes the Kentucky Derby winner Mystik Dan, Derby runner-up Sierra Leone and Preakness winner Seize the Grey. All that will matter when the result is recorded below the 155 editions that preceded it is, if Mindframe crosses the line first, the record will show a horse born in Maryland was the winner.

Breeder R. Larry Johnson is trying to get his head around it all.

“I’ve been fortunate to raise some pretty good horses, but nothing that got to this level,” the 77-year-old said. “I think he will have a credible chance in a Triple Crown race. And for someone who started out running at Charles Town in $2,000 purses to get to this is just something I could never have imagined in my wildest dreams.”

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Boosters representing the state’s breeders say this is a significant sign that Maryland — typically responsible for only about 3% of the foal crop in the U.S. — can still produce quality horses, even as the industry as a whole continues to see numbers decline.

“It’s just nice to see a horse come out of this family that he’s really nurtured and developed over the years,” said Cindy Deubler, a research specialist with the Maryland Horse Breeders Association. “So I think that it kind of reaffirms that a good horse can be born pretty much anywhere.”

Mindframe, on the outside, trains at Saratoga Race Course on June 1. (Courtesy of Adam Coglianese, New York Racing Association)

Even though Johnson’s Legacy Farm is located in Bluemont, Virginia, he’s been one of the most successful breeders in Maryland in recent years. From 2017 to 2023, according to figures from the MHBA, he led the state in bonus money from the Maryland Fund, a program to encourage breeding in the state.

One of the first efforts of its kind in American racing, the program is seeded using about 1% of the handle — the amount of money wagered in the state on thoroughbred racing — and what’s known as the breakage, the small amount that remains after the winning dividend from a race is rounded down to the nearest dime or dollar and paid out to bettors.

The money is used to fund race purses for Maryland-breds and bonuses for owners and breeders of Maryland-breds that finish first, second or third in certain in-state races, and the owners of sires standing in the state whose offspring finish first, second or third in races that meet the same criteria.

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Until recently, Virginia did not have as robust a breeding program, so Johnson sent his mares to foal in Maryland. A native of Prince George’s County, Johnson said he still considers himself a Marylander and has run Maryland-breds for years.

All of which is to say that, after Johnson bred his mare Walk of Stars to the sire Constitution at WinStar Farm in Versailles, Kentucky, it was entirely unremarkable when he sent his pregnant mare to the farm of Dr. Thomas Bowman, a veterinarian and accomplished horse breeder in his own right, near Chestertown on the Eastern Shore, as he has done many times before (The use of public funds each year to support horse racing in Maryland has long been justified by legislators because it helps sustain farms like Bowman’s.)

Because he kept breeding stock in Maryland, and the colt that would come to be known as Mindframe was born at Bowman’s Dance Forth Farm on May 13, 2021, Johnson could register the foal as a Maryland-bred in the hopes of eventually earning breeder bonuses at the track.

He often retains the horses he breeds and runs them, meaning he can collect as both an owner and breeder. Just one example is Future Is Now, a 4-year-old filly by Great Notion out of Past As Prelude, who won The Very One Stakes on Black-Eyed Susan Day at Pimlico and will run in the Grade 2 Intercontinental Stakes at Saratoga on Friday.

But something stood out to Johnson as the foal grew into a yearling at his farm in Virginia.

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“By the time of the summer of his yearling year, he had developed into really quite a handsome horse, very athletic,” he said. “Clearly, I thought he was the best of what I had at the farm. Certainly I had no idea whether he would be the kind of horse he seems to be, but physically, he had certainly grown into a good horse. And he had a great mind; he was just really easy. That’s also important in the development of a racehorse.”

Meanwhile, the horse’s sire, Constitution, became known as a successful stallion, his stud fee rising from $25,000 in 2018 to $110,000 in 2023. As the owner of a small share in Constitution, Johnson was able to have the stallion cover Walk of Stars at no charge, one of the free breeding sessions a year he gets as a shareholder.

That led him to consider selling the horse.

“I thought the sire was such that he would be looked at by the right kind of players,” Johnson said. “Physically, he was, as I said, quite attractive. And I thought he could bring the kind of money that would be kind of hard for me to turn down. I’ve got a relatively small breeding business.”

He consigned the horse to the Keeneland Association September Yearling Sale 2022 and felt optimistic about getting a good price after the horse drew considerable interest.

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Those expectations were exceeded when billionaires Mike Repole (co-founder of beverage brand Glaceau) and Vincent Viola (founder of Virtu Vinancial) formed a 50-50 partnership and submitted the winning bid of $600,000.

For Johnson, the involvement of Repole, an active horseman who works extensively with one of the best trainers in the country, Todd Pletcher, meant the horse he bred would get the best opportunity to succeed.

Mindframe trainer Todd Pletcher, shown here prior to the 2023 Kentucky Derby, has been named Trainer of the Year eight times. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

“You can’t always say that. You look and see who buys your horse and say, ‘God, I kind of wish it hadn’t been those people,’” he said. “But here I was always encouraged that he was going to be given the best opportunities possible, given who he was going to be trained by.”

In emailed responses to questions from The Baltimore Banner, Repole said his team “all fell in love with this beautiful colt” before the auction.

Afterward, though, the colt did not race as a 2-year-old in 2023, and Johnson recalled seeing only one timed workout on his tab. When the colt was one of 346 3-year-olds nominated for Triple Crown consideration this year, he didn’t even have a name. Johnson only got a sense of how highly his horse was regarded when, a short time before the colt’s maiden race on March 30, representatives from Repole Stable inquired about acquiring Mindframe’s mother and a half-sister, Hollywood Walk.

The owners eventually picked Mindframe, a nod to the intellect Johnson spotted in the horse as a yearling.

“Mindframe is a very powerful name for me. Having the right mind frame in life gives you the ability to succeed no matter what hurdles or obstacles are thrown your way,” Repole wrote. “He is a very smart and intelligent horse, so I thought the name was very fitting.”

Repole said Mindframe got such a late start because he and his team wanted to give the colt the time he needed to develop.

When he finally did run at Gulfstream Park, Mindframe turned heads, going off at even money in an $89,000 maiden special weight race at seven furlongs and winning by 13 3/4 lengths. He backed it up in a one-mile $127,000 allowance optional claiming race on the Kentucky Derby undercard as the 1-2 favorite — his first time doing two turns — with another dominant win, 7 1/2 lengths out in front.

Coming off that effort, the colt has continued to train well and improve, Repole said. A win would give the native of Queens, New York, his second Belmont Stakes winner, the first being Mo Donegal in 2022. Getting it at the historic upstate track, which opened a little over a year after the Battle of Gettysburg, would be even more special.

“There is no better place to win a race than at Saratoga,” he wrote.

On Saturday, Johnson will host a watch party for friends and family. He said his anxiety level is higher than it is for horses he’s chosen to keep as an owner.

“I probably won’t sleep Friday night, which is ridiculous — I don’t own the damn horse,” he said. “So why am I tossing and turning?”

Part of it is that breeding a Belmont runner is an achievement that’s understandable to the broader public, to people who know about horse racing only through the Triple Crown. When he meets people outside the racing world and tells them he breeds horses, they often ask, “Did you ever have a horse in the Derby?”

“The answer was always, ‘No, of course I didn’t. I don’t play at that level,’” he said. “Well, now I can say, ‘Wow, I bred one that did.’ ”

But there’s also the mark it will leave on the body of Johnson’s work as a breeder. The pedigree of Mindframe’s mother, Walk of Stars, can be traced back to one of the first horses he bought and bred, Ran’s Chick. She was injured soon after he purchased her for $2,400 in 1978 and didn’t race once. She “had no pedigree and had no business ever being bred,” Johnson said. “And I didn’t know enough to not breed her, so I did.”

He’s had more than 40 stakes-quality horses as a result of that decision.

In addition to Walk of Stars and Hollywood Walk, Johnson owns aunts, uncles and other relatives of Mindframe whose residual value would go up with a victory Saturday.

“It would have a real ripple effect throughout the pedigree,” he said, “because you’re talking about a Triple Crown classic race, and that stays in the pedigree forever.”