Mage’s Full-Brother Dornoch Upsets The Belmont Stakes

By Christina Bossinakis

SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY–Coming into this year’s GI Belmont S., Dornoch (Good Magic) had the credentials to be a good one. As a full-brother to last year’s GI Kentucky Derby winner Mage, the pedigree was certainly there. His rider, Luis Saez, is one of the leading jocks in the country, having registered his first victory in a Classic with Essential Quality in the 2021 GI Belmont S. Not to mention that the colt had already won a pair of graded stakes–last season’s GII Remsen S. in addition to the GII Fountain of Youth S. this year. But most did not believe, as reflected by the 17-1 odds that the colt was given while facing nine others in the final leg in the Triple Crown. But standing staunchly in his corner and never wavering was trainer Danny Gargan.

“I never lost faith in him,” the New York-based trainer said. “He had tremendous works up here. He’s a big powerful horse. You just have to be patient and not lose focus and just grind away, and hopefully, you get lucky and win one of these. And today, we did.”

Favored by a clean break from post six, Dornoch slid to the front as GI Preakness S. winner Seize the Grey (Arrogate), Resilience (Into Mischief) and the well-backed ‘TDN Rising Star’ Mindframe (Constitution) rushed up to argue the issue in the early going. Meanwhile, favored fellow ‘Rising Star’ Sierra Leone (Gun Runner) broke slightly outward, precipitating a chain reaction that caused him to bounce off Mindframe, who was being hustled into position from his high draw, and then slamming into Honor Marie (Honor Code) and Protective (Medaglia d’Oro) to his inside.

As the front rank cut out a legitimate initial quarter in :22.99, Dornoch remained a close second to Seize the Grey through a slightly softer half in :47.25, as Mindframe, Resilience and Antiquarian (Preservationist) tracked that group from just over a length behind. With little change up front through three-quarters in 1:10.67, Sierra Leone was still far back, over a dozen lengths from the pacesetter. Dornoch was given the cue to go on, and he stuck his neck in front leaving the far turn and was running easily as Seize the Grey fought back to his inside while Mindframe wouldn’t let up on the outside. Slipped over to the rail by Saez for the stretch drive, Dornoch continued to show the way as the early leader retreated with Mindframe seemingly poised to run by. However, the lightly raced colt appeared to have his sights set on a hot dog because he drifted out markedly, losing valuable real estate in the process. Making up ground but not having a better time of it behind, Sierra Leone exchanged bumps with Protective, causing both horses to lose momentum. Despite the difficulties behind, Dornoch continued to roll up front, and despite the best efforts from Mindframe and pilot Irad Ortiz, Jr. in deep stretch, it was Dornoch who held on to a half-length score. Mindframe, sent off at 5-1, was a length ahead of the late-surging Sierra Leone, who finally unfurled his long legs, but as was the case when nosed out in the Kentucky Derby, it was too late to land the main prize. The Preakness winner Seize the Grey faded to seventh while Mystik Dan (Goldencents), who never seemed to get into the mix, finished eighth.

“It was a pretty good race,” said Saez, who has been aboard Dornoch in six of the colt’s seven prior starts. “The horse broke pretty sharp. The position we were looking for. He did everything right. He came to the top of the stretch, I still have a lot of horse and he fights. He fights to get there first. He’s a horse that really has a big heart and man, he ran the perfect race.”

Redemption is sweet and Gargan, who has remained high on his charge since the colt’s 10th-place finish in the Derby, reveled in a victory well earned.

“I’m still just taking it in,” said Gargan, winning his first Classic. “It’s pretty exciting. It’s a special thing just to be a part of these races, not to mention to win one with a horse you bought at Keeneland and have had it for its whole [racing] life. I spend so much time with him and my staff has done such a great job with him.”

Immediately following the race, trainer Todd Pletcher indicated that he thought the Repole Stable and St Elias Stable-owned runner-up would get up in time, but his errant ways likely cost him the win.

“[Irad Ortiz, jr.] said he drifted out on him a little bit and it felt like [Mindframe] lost focus for a moment,” said Pletcher. “He angled him back inside so he could see Dornoch and he re-engaged and was closing but just ran out of time.”

Regarding the ‘TDN Rising Star’s inexperience, he added, “If he could have run a straight course down the lane, that would have been the difference. Irad felt like he just lost that little bit of focus. He was still coming at the end.”

However, despite the disappointment in not getting the win, Pletcher was complimentary of the winner.

“Obviously, I know he is a full brother to a Derby winner and I know Danny and his team have always thought strongly that he is a top horse,” Pletcher said. “I think maybe he got sidetracked a little bit along the way trying to figure out his running style, but he has always shown quality.”

After a pair of admirable efforts by his colt in his last two starts, including a last-out second in the Preakness, trainer Kenny McPeek was pragmatic about Mystik Dan’s effort.

“Brian [Hernandez Jr.] said he was kind of spinning his wheels over this track,” he said. “It looked to me that the racetrack was a little deeper than normal. I thought it might have changed over the course of the day. We thought some of the others would go [to the lead] and they did but the speed held. Dornoch was right on the lead with Seize the Grey, and he backed up too.”

Asked whether he thought the Triple Crown might had taken its toll on the colt, he said, “The horse had acted really good coming into this race. He was training well and eating well and I didn’t see a difference. Maybe tomorrow morning we’ll see something different.

“Look, we’ve had a great season with him. We’ll back off of him and give him a little bit of a break and regroup.”

Hernandez was also disappointed by the result, with Mystik Dan finishing out of the money for the first time since January.

“He didn’t leave there as sharp as we would have liked him to but he has run two really hard races in the Derby and Preakness,” Hernandez said. “Around the first turn, he wasn’t traveling as I would have liked him to, but, at the same time, I was still kind of hoping he would pick it up. Around the second turn, he picked it up nicely and I was like, ‘ok, we are going to be in good shape.’ But when he turned, for home..”

Back Form Holds the Answer

While many judged Dornoch based on his two latest starts, a fourth in the Apr. 6 GI Toyota Blue Grass S. and 10th in the Kentucky Derby, the striking bay never finished worse than second in his first five career starts. Runner-up in the slop here last July, he filled the same spot next time out in Monmouth’s Sapling S. in August. A resounding 6 1/2-length winner in a Keeneland maiden in October, the $325,000 Keeneland September purchase bested Sierra Leone by a nose in the Remsen before adding another win at Gulfstream in the Fountain of Youth. Since his Derby disappointment, Dornoch recorded two official four-furlong works–the first in :48.48 at Saratoga May 24 and the latest a :48.68 work June 1.

“We got up here three days [after the Derby] and we were pointing toward this race,” said Gargan. “We tried to do the best we could and keep him as happy as we could. He was training phenomenal and worked great here a couple of times. They overlooked him here because he ran one bad race but they’ll probably give him a little more of a look next time.”

All-Star Team Bags the Belmont

Winning a big-league championship like the Super Bowl, World Series or World Cup is no easy feat. Just ask Jayson Werth who accomplished the feat in 2008 when his team, the Philadelphia Phillies, won the World Series. The former All-Star, who announced his retirement in 2018, is the first to admit that he’s a fortunate guy. Looking for something to occupy himself with following his retirement, he launched Two Eight Racing in 2021 (Werth wore number 28 during his days as a ball player), and what he lacks in experience and numbers, he has more than made up for with quality, highlighted by Dornoch.

“I didn’t find racing, racing found me,” he said moments after Dornoch’s Classic win. Werth owns the colt in partnership with longtime owner Randy Hill, West Paces Racing LLC, Belmar Racing and Breeding and Pine Racing Stables.

“I didn’t do anything. That’s what these guys are for,” said Werth pointing to Gargan and Hill. “I’ve got good partners and a good trainer, and a great horse. I’ll put this up there with anything I’ve ever done. This is the top of sports. Horse racing is the most underrated sport there is. This is as big as it gets. The emotions you feel when you play in a playoff game, when you win a World Series game, it is the top of sports, and this is where we’re at.”

According to Werth, he met Gargan at Keeneland and the pair hit it off, with the trainer convincing the former baller to invest in racehorses.

“After I retired, I went to the Keeneland sale to buy some fillies and I ran into Danny and his guys. And he said, ‘You should get in on this horse, he’s going to be a Derby horse.’ And I said, ‘Yeah right.’ But I was in the mood and saying yes to a lot of things so bought a few horses that day.’ But the first horse I bought was Dornoch, Danny convinced me to buy him, and ‘lo and behold we ran in the Derby and won the Belmont. It’s unbelievable. Let’s keep going!”

Gargan, who felt he missed out on purchasing Mage when he went through the sales ring, was determined to get his brother Dornoch, landing the colt for $325,000 at the Keeneland September Sale in 2022.

“At the time we had bought him, Mage hadn’t won,” he recalled. “But I had seen Mage work in Maryland at the [Fasig-Tipton Midlantic] 2-year-old in Training Sale and I regretted not buying him because he didn’t sell for crazy money. So at Keeneland, I really wanted to buy this horse. So we were lucky enough to buy him and it’s been a great ride.”

Pedigree Notes:

‘TDN Rising Star’ Puca already produced 2023 GI Kentucky Derby winner Mage and now adds Mage‘s full-brother Dornoch as another Classic winner. While Puca is believed to be the ninth mare in history to produce two separate winners of two American Classics, she is only the second to produce individual Kentucky Derby and Belmont winners, following the legendary 1885 mare Cinderella, whose Hastings won the 1896 Belmont and whose Plaudit won the 1898 Derby. Only two other mares in modern history have produced two separate American Classic winners: Better Than Honour (Rags to Riches and Jazil, both in the Belmont) and Weekend Surprise (Summer Squall in the Preakness and A.P. Indy in the Belmont).

John Stewart of Resolute Racing, relatively new to the sport, purchased Puca in 2023 from the Case Clay consignment at Keeneland November for $2.9 million post-sale. She produced a full-brother to Mage and Dornoch for Stewart Apr. 4. Both Mage and Dornoch were bred by Robert Clay’s Grandview Equine, who originally purchased the former ‘TDN Rising Star’ for $475,000 at the 2018 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky November sale. Including her first foal, Gunning (Gun Runner), Puca has three stakes performers from the same number of starters. Puca also has the unraced 2-year-old colt Baeza (McKinzie), who sold to Mayberry Farm for $1.2 million at Keeneland September. She was bred back to Good Magic for 2025.

Dornoch is one of the nine graded winners from 17 black-type winners by Hill n’ Dale’s Good Magic, who sends just his third crop to the races this year. In addition to his two Classic winners, Good Magic also has additional Grade I winners in Muth and Blazing Sevens, both also ‘TDN Rising Stars.’ The son of Curlin was the leading first-crop sire of 2022 and is currently second to Justify on the leading third-crop sire list. –Jill Williams