Dornoch Faces Biggest Test Yet in GI Blue Grass

Dornoch and Danny Gargan prepare for the GI Blue Grass S. | Sara Gordon

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Saturday's GI Blue Grass S. will be Dornoch's big chance to put away any uncertainty surrounding his true talent. The son of Good Magic beat Blue Grass morning-line favorite Sierra Leone (Gun Runner) last December in the GII Remsen S., but his Chad Brown-trained rival only lost by a nose and has since improved his resume with a definitive win in the GII Risen Star while adding blinkers. Meanwhile Dornoch claimed a scratched-down edition of the GII Fountain of Youth, taking the lead early and breaking away from rivals in the stretch only after changing leads late.

Dornoch has put in front-running performances in each of his last three victories with jockey Luis Saez aboard, but trainer Danny Gargan believes it is only because no one has been able to keep up with the speedy sophomore. Gargan said he hopes that Saturday's Derby prep at Keeneland will be an educational opportunity for Dornoch.

“We'll see what happens, but I'm going to tell [Saez] to break running and I think there will be a couple of horses who are going to come out wanting the lead,” Gargan explained. “We'd like to see him a length or half a length behind them and go around following horses so he's not on the lead the whole way.”

Gargan seems to believe that we may even see a different side of Dornoch if he is given the opportunity to stalk.

“He likes to have horses around him,” he said. “We're not taking him back to last or anything crazy, but we'd like to stalk. If he has competition I wouldn't say he runs any different, but he stays more in the bridle, more focused. We just want him to have some competition and to keep him going.”

Dornoch has put in three works at Palm Meadows since his Fountain of Youth score. In his last work on March 30, the colt went four furlongs in :47.25 (1/35).

“He's pretty talented in all his works,” said Gargan. “He's a really good work horse. We worked him a little stronger last time. We wanted to get a strong work in him because the week before, weather occurred and the track wasn't perfect to our liking. So we decided to get a little stronger work in him and we're happy with how he came out of it.”

Dornoch was originally slated to travel north to Keeneland earlier this week, but bad weather pushed back his arrival to Thursday. The colt was able to get a feel for the track that he broke his maiden on last October early on Friday morning.

Dornoch at Keeneland | Sara Gordon

“I think it ended up working well,” said Gargan. “We kept him [at Palm Meadows] where the weather was good and we were able to train. We didn't really want to get involved in the tornados and the storms or be on the highways when it was going to be that bad. So it worked out. He shipped in and looks great and knock on wood, everything is going good. Now we will just relax and hopefully have a fun day.”

Dornoch will break from post four for Saturday's mile and an eighth contest.

The 11-horse Blue Grass will offer Kentucky Derby qualifying points to the top five finishers. Both Sierra Leone and 3-1 second choice Dornoch are expected to already have enough qualifying points with 55 and 60 points, respectively.

The Brad Cox duo of Just A Touch (Justify), who was second to Deterministic (Liam's Map) last time out in the GIII Gotham, and Encino (Nyquist), who makes his dirt debut after a win in the John Battaglia Memorial S. at Turfway Park, both look to add to the competition. The Repole Stable-campaigned, Todd Pletcher-trained Be You (Curlin) also comes in off an eye-catching maiden win at Gulfstream Park that earned a 96 Beyer Speed Figure.

Gargan, a native of Lousville, will be searching for his first Grade I win on Saturday in the Blue Grass. He will also be sending out another potential Kentucky Derby-bound son of Good Magic in Society Man for the GII Wood Memorial S.

Ahead of a key stallion-making race, Gargan is hopeful that Dornoch can follow in the footsteps of his older brother, 2023 GI Kentucky Derby winner Mage.

“To be a full-brother to the Kentucky Derby winner, if he could win a Grade I too, that's life changing,” said Gargan. “Winning this race would be spectacular. It'd be great for his resume and for his whole family.”

Speaking of Dornoch's family, his dam Puca (Big Brown) just delivered a full-brother to Mage and Dornoch on the eve of opening day of Keeneland's Spring Meet at John Stewart's Resolute Farm.

“Puca, dam of 2023 Kentucky Derby winner Mage and Dornoch who is on the road to the Kentucky Derby this Saturday at Keeneland in the Blue Grass Stakes, just gave birth to a massive colt by Good Magic,” John Stewart said in a Tweet. “Little bro will be watching.”

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