July 16, 2024

Dornoch adds to family legacy with Belmont upset

Dornoch wins the Belmont S. (G1) during Belmont at Saratoga.
Dornoch wins the Belmont S. (G1) during Belmont at Saratoga. (Photo by Coglianese Photography / Credit to Susie Raisher)

The mating of juvenile champion Good Magic and the Big Brown mare Puca yielded its second classic winner in two years when Dornoch upset the $2 million Belmont S. (G1) at Saratoga on Saturday.

A younger full brother to 2023 Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Mage, Dornoch defied diminished expectations resulting from his recent form in the Blue Grass (G1) and the Derby to land this unique edition of the “Test of the Champion” at odds of 17-1.

Playing host to the Belmont for two years while its downstate home undergoes a refurbishment, Saratoga’s first version was held over a distance of 1 1/4 miles, two furlongs shorter than the traditional 1 1/2 miles. That might have worked to the benefit of Dornoch, who clung to victory by a half-length over second choice Mindframe and tardy 17-10 favorite Sierra Leone.

First or second in his first five starts, which included wins in the Remsen (G2) over Sierra Leone on a speed-favoring track and in the Fountain of Youth (G2), Dornoch appeared to have regressed over the course of the spring, despite plausible excuses. An attempt at teaching the the colt to rate backfired in the Blue Grass, where he finished more than six lengths behind Sierra Leone.

In the Kentucky Derby, Dornoch broke from the unfavorable post 1 and endured a rough trip while racing in the back half of the field throughout. He eventually checked in 10th in the field of 20, 18 lengths behind Mystik Dan and Sierra Leone.

“We got overlooked a little bit because he ran one bad race. I never lost faith in him,” winning trainer Danny Gargan said. “He was training phenomenal. He worked great here.”

Dornoch had no such problems in the Belmont, breaking alertly under Luis Saez and racing in close attendance to Preakness (G1) winner Seize the Grey into the clubhouse turn and down the backside through fractions of :22.99, :47.25, and 1:10.67.

“Better post, we were expecting a good break from there,” said Saez, who also won the 2021 Belmont aboard Essential Quality. “We were thinking to take the lead, but we knew they had a lot of speed to the inside from [Seize the Grey]. That was great because we had a target to follow.”

Mindframe, who was making his stakes debut in only his third career start, tracked in third down the backside. Meanwhile, Sierra Leone took up his customary position near the back after stumbling at the start and bumping with both Mindframe and Honor Marie.

Dornoch poked his head in front of Seize the Grey approaching the quarter pole, but briefly yielded the lead to Mindframe in midstretch. However, Mindframe’s inexperience soon proved costly as he shied out under left-handed urging, allowing the rail-skimming Dornoch to reclaim the lead and the win.

Sierra Leone, still last of 10 turning for home, bumped with the maiden Protective in upper stretch, raced erratically just as he did in the stretch of the Derby while picking off rivals, and wound up third, a half-length behind Mindframe.

“We got slammed at the start and he got far back,” trainer Chad Brown said of Sierra Leone. “He had an opportunity to engage the bit and improve his position down the backside and he really didn’t do it. At the quarter pole, it looked like he wasn’t going anywhere, then he grabbed the bit late and he came on. It’s a hard track today to close ground on.”

The order of finish was rounded out by Honor Marie, Antiquarian, Protective, Seize the Grey, Mystik Dan, The Wine Steward, and Resilience.

Dornoch covered the course over a fast track in 2:01.64 and paid $37.40. He races for the partnership of West Paces Racing, R. A. Hill Stable, Belmar Racing and Breeding, Two Eight Racing, and Pine Racing Stables.

Dornoch has now won more than $1.75 million while winning four of eight starts. He was bred by Grandview Equine in Kentucky and sold for $325,000 at Keeneland September.

With three different winners of the Triple Crown races this spring, leadership in the three-year-old male division is up in the air. The track-and-distance Travers (G1) at the end of August might help clarify matters, but there are wild cards lurking in the background.

Thorpedo Anna, a dominating winner of the Acorn (G1) and Kentucky Oaks (G1), could take on the colts this summer, while the connections of Epsom Derby (G1) hero City of Troy have floated taking a crack at the Midsummer Derby to test his dirt prowess ahead of the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1).

Strap in. The summer season is just beginning.