Categories: Sports

What Are Dornoch’s Chances In The Kentucky Derby?

What Are Dornoch’s Chances In The Kentucky Derby?

Author: Lindsay Griffin

Certain horses are stamped for the Kentucky Derby early on in their careers.

Some may say that the juvenile season is too soon to make such a prediction about a horse, but often one year’s top two-year-olds make up the bulk of the favorites for the next year’s Triple Crown series. For example, while last year’s Kentucky Derby winner, Mage, was unraced at two, the reigning champion of the crop, Forte, was the favorite for the big race until he was forced to scratch that morning. Last year’s Preakness winner, National Treasure, was also one of the top two-year-olds of 2022.

While Dornoch was not crowned Eclipse Champion Two-Year-Old Male of 2023 (that honor going instead to Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Fierceness), his win in the 1 ⅛ mile Grade II Remsen Stakes placed him in the discussion of the crop’s most talented prospects. Let’s take a closer look at this remarkable colt, and see if he could make all the way to the Kentucky Derby winners’ circle.

The People

Dornoch is trained by Danny Gargan, a name that is likely unfamiliar to those who are not intimately connected to the Thoroughbred racing industry.

According to the latest 2024 Kentucky Derby news, Gargan began his career in 1997, when he amassed five starts at three different Kentucky tracks: Churchill Downs (the home of the Kentucky Derby), Ellis Park, and Keeneland Race Course. All five starts were by a single horse, a gelding named Virtuous Reality. Virtuous Reality failed to win for Gargan, though he did earn a second and three thirds.

Gargan resurfaced in 2013, and he got his first win in March of that year at Aqueduct Racetrack with a gelding named Drink With Pride. He finished the season with 13 wins from 105 starts.

Gargan’s next milestone came the following year, when he earned his first stakes victory. On July 28, 2014, Gargan’s filly R Free Roll scored an upset win in the Grade II Honorable Miss Handicap.

As of this writing, Gargan has a total of 2002 starts, resulting in 428 wins. Aside from Dornoch and the aforementioned R Free Roll, Gargan has had graded stakes winners in Dubyuhnell, Venezuelan Hug, Divine Miss Grey, and Tax.

For each of his last three starts, which include Dornoch’s two graded stakes wins, he has been ridden by Luis Saez. Saez crossed the finish line first in the 2019 Kentucky Derby aboard Maximum Security, but was later disqualified to 17th for interference. He redeemed himself in 2021, when he rode Essential Quality to a third-place Derby finish before winning the Belmont Stakes. He had previously guided Essential Quality to the win in the 2020 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.

Saez has been riding since 2009, winning his first race in August aboard Fearless Honor. His first stakes win came a month later on Cinnamon Road in Calder Race Course’s Needles Stakes, and his first graded stakes victory came in 2010 when he guided Twilight Meteor to victory in the Grade III Tropical Turf Handicap. As of this writing, Saez has 19,657 starts and 3443 wins.

The Race Record

Dornoch is relatively lightly raced; he has, at present, a career spanning seven months which has resulted in five starts at five different tracks, three of which resulted in wins.

His career began on July 29th, when he ran in a 6 ½ furlong maiden race at Saratoga. The track came up sloppy and he failed to catch longshot front runner Seize the Grey, but Gargan saw enough promise in the colt to enter him in the August 26th Sapling Stakes at Monmouth Park over a mile. Although Dornoch was still a maiden, he was the post-time favorite. He ran second again, this time being caught in the final stages by Noted.

Dornoch’s first win finally came on October 14th at Keeneland, when he scored by 6 ½ lengths as a heavy favorite. Gargan immediately put the colt back into stakes company, entering the Remsen Stakes at Belmont Park. There, Dornoch prevailed by a scant nose over Sierra Leone after a hard stretch drive. The latter later flattered Dornoch by easily winning the Grade II Risen Star Stakes.

Dornoch continued his winning ways in 2024, making his sophomore debut in the Grade II Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park. Dornoch led from gate to wire, winning comfortably by 1 ¾ lengths over Le Dom Bro. He now sits at second on the Kentucky Derby qualifying points leaderboard with 60, trailing only Grade II Rebel Stakes winner Timberlake, and will likely make his final Kentucky Derby prep in the Grade I Florida Derby,

The Breeding

Although he is undoubtedly talented, Dornoch’s breeding is what draws the public’s attention: although he has proven the more precocious of the two, he is still often referred to as “Mage’s little brother.”

Indeed, the two colts are about as closely related as two Thoroughbred horses can be. They share the same sire, Good Magic, and the same dam, Puca. Although many Kentucky Derby winners have shared a sire, no two Kentucky Derby winners have ever shared the same dam.

Good Magic has, in his young sire career, proven to pass along stamina, and he himself was second in his own Kentucky Derby. He has sired several stakes winners besides this pair, and among the most successful have been Muth, Blazing Sevens, How Did He Do That, Reincarnate, Curly Jack, and Dubyuhnell. Good Magic is currently 28th on the 2024 Leading Sires list, and is fourth among third-crop sites in America.

Puca was a stakes winner and placed in graded stakes competition when she ran second in the Grade II Gazelle Stakes. Her sire, Big Brown, is a proven source of stamina, having won the 2008 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes.