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Dornoch won the 2023 Remsen Stakes (G2) at Aqueduct – a 2024 Kentucky Derby (G1) prep race – by re-rallying past Sierra Leone in the late stages. The Danny Gargan-trained winner is a full younger brother of 2023 Kentucky Derby (G1) champion Mage.
Did Dornoch win with a gutsy effort, or did Sierra Leone lose because he stopped trying? Watch the replay & get the Racing Dudes’ expert analysis, then tell us YOUR thoughts in the Comments section!
Dornoch dug down deep and defeated a rapidly-closing Sierra Leone at the wire in Saturday’s Grade 2, $250,000 Remsen Stakes, a nine-furlong test for 2-year-olds, at Aqueduct Racetrack.
In an exhilarating photo finish, Dornoch, who was seemingly beaten by his rival inside the sixteenth pole when Sierra Leone went by him, courageously re-rallied on the fence under strong urging by Luis Saez and secured the trophy for owners West Paces Racing, R.A. Hill Stable, Belmar Racing and Breeding, Two Eight Racing, and Pine Racing Stables.
Trained by Danny Gargan, the winner of the 2022 Remsen with Dubyuhnell, Dornoch took a major step toward the first Saturday in May by earning 10 qualifying points on the Road to the 150th Kentucky Derby. The bay colt, who is by Good Magic out of the Big Brown mare Puca and a full brother to 2023 Derby victor Mage, refused to lose.
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On a muddy and sealed track that had been playing kindly to inside speed all afternoon, he went to the lead in the 10-horse field and set fleet fractions of 23.09 seconds and 46.97 for the first half-mile, 1:11:56 for six furlongs, and 1:37.42 for the mile. He looked like the sure winner late in the race, but then Sierra Leone came storming wide from all the way at the back of the pack and was gaining ground with every stride under Jose Ortiz.
The two colts engaged in a fierce battle to the wire, with Sierra Leone, a $2.3 million yearling purchase trained by Chad Brown, coming up just short by a nose.
“It was pretty good fractions. I had everyone on top right there, but he was pretty comfortable. When he has pressure, he’s OK, but when he feels alone, he kind of look around. But he’s learning. He’s a pretty good horse,” said Saez. “He’s a pretty nice horse, but I feel like he’s still learning. When he kind of feels a little alone, he was a little lost. As soon as the other one [Sierra Leone] came to him, he saw him and he want to beat him. I can’t describe this. He wants to win the race.
“Jose tried to close, but he’s a big horse and he got through,” Saez continued. “It’s pretty difficult to come back, but he has a big stride, and two jumps – he was right there. I was pretty surprised. Every day, you learn something new from horses, and this is a pretty special horse. Last time, he kind of was the same, but he ran with different horses. Today was a pretty tough race, and he proved that he’s a pretty good horse.”
Two starts back, Dornoch was the runner-up in Monmouth Park’s Sapling with Kendrick Carmouche up and in his last effort was the dominant 6 1/2 length winner of a 1 1/16 miles maiden at Keeneland on October 14 while never switching leads and running greenly. He was significantly more professional in the Remsen.
“Kendrick told me, when he rode him at Monmouth, he said ‘Danny, if I had more time.’ When he saw the horse go by him, he said he gets to playing around, which he bounced off the rail today and when he gets out there by himself he loses focus. He said if he sees another horse, he’s going to run back to him and today he proved it,” said Gargan, who called Dornoch the best horse he’s ever trained. “It was something that was always said but never proven until today, but that was pretty impressive because I thought the other horse went way past him. For him to dig in and fight back like that, especially after the half mile in 46 [seconds], three quarters in 1:11, he ran the whole race.”
Dornoch’s final time for the 1 1/8 miles was 1:50.30. Sierra Leone [5 points) finished 4 3/4 lengths in front of Drum Roll Please [3 points], with Moonlight [2 points], Where’s Chris [1 point], Copper Tax, Domestic Product, Billal, Le Dom Bro, and Private Dancer rounding out the order of finish.
Jose Ortiz said he was pleased with the trip he engineered for Sierra Leone.
“He broke good, they went plenty fast. He just sit there, he was relaxed,” Ortiz said. “I make a move at the half a mile and he responded nicely. He was lugging in a little bit in the stretch and the other horse [Dornoch] looked like he was waiting. When he felt me, he came back. I think it was a good race from him [Sierra Leone]. My horse kept coming. He ran a bit greenly, but I’m proud of him. It was a big step up.”
On his wide bid into the stretch Ortiz explained, “He was running so good to the other horses, and I didn’t want to get him stopped. So, I went wide with him.”
Drum Roll Please, a Brad Cox trainee and maiden winner last out, was trying stakes company and the distance for the first time and his rider, Hall of Famer Javier Castellano, was pleased with the colt.
“I loved my trip. I liked the way he did it. He stepped up in class and did it very professionally. He ran two turns for the first time, I liked the way he did it from the beginning until the end. He passed horses, was behind horses, took dirt in the face, was a great experience for him, especially with a lot of horses and a lot of kickback. It was very nice and professional,” he said.
Gargan, who said they were lucky to get the $325,000 yearling buy, outlined what’s next for Dornoch as the connections set sights on the Run for The Roses and the Triple Crown campaign.
“He’s a big, big horse. We are going to give him some time off and take him down to Palm Meadows, kind of like Nick Zito taught me when I was his assistant. We will tack walk him for a couple weeks, two to three weeks, play around with him, let him grow into that frame and start looking for races later, probably sometime in March. Two races, maybe three before the Derby,” said the trainer. “He’s a very special horse.”
Bred in Kentucky by Grandview Equine, Dornoch banked $137,500 in victory while improving his record to 4 2-2-0. He returned $5.40 for a $2 win bet.
“This is the first leg of a long journey, I hope,” said co-owner Randy Hill, alluding to the Kentucky Derby, in the winner’s circle.
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