Jayson Werth Hits It Out of the Park with Dornoch

Jayson Werth Getty Images

Plagued by injuries and getting up there in age, Jayson Werth announced his retirement from baseball on June 28, 2018. He finished with 229 career home runs, was an All-Star in 2009 and won a World Series in 2008 with the Philadelphia Phillies. It had been a great run, but when it was over Werth wasn't exactly ready to move on. He never lost the feelings that baseball gave him, the excitement, the ups and downs, the camaraderie with his teammates and the pride that comes with knowing that you have succeeded at the highest level.

There was golf but he needed something else. And in horse racing Jayson Werth has found exactly what he was looking for. Running under the name of Two Eight Racing (Werth wore number 28 during his playing days), the 44-year-old native of Springfield, Illinois has enjoyed remarkable early success. Involved in the sport only since 2021, Werth could be on his way to the GI Kentucky Derby. He is the co-owner of Dornoch (Good Magic), the winner of the GII Fountain of Youth S., as well as recent maiden winner Drip (Good Magic), who will be out to pick up Derby points in this Saturday's GII Tampa Bay Derby. Then there's R Calli Kim (Revolutionary), who won the GIII Very One S., which was part of the Fountain of Youth card.

“On some level, horse racing has filled a really large void in my life that has been created by my retiring from baseball,” he said. “Horse racing picked up where baseball left off. Its's a great industry for me to be in. Professional baseball, when you do it for 22 years, it takes over your whole life. My wife has a sign in the kitchen that says 'We interrupt this family for baseball season.' Then it's over and you think 'what do I do now?'

Werth lived near a Standardbred farm when he was growing up and befriended the owner and helped out with the horses, something that he enjoyed. But his family moved when he was 13 and Werth would soon be immersed in baseball. He didn't have time for anything else.

He soon found out that the passion he had for horses when he was young had never disappeared. Werth began playing golf with Richard Averill, who runs under the name of Averill Racing, and the owner introduced him to Thoroughbred racing.

Dornoch after winning the Fountain of Youth | Ryan Thompson

“I started picking Richard's brain and then partnered with him on some horses,” Werth said. “Racing became a passion and a love really fast for me. It started out with me thinking this is fun, let's claim this horse for $8,000. But I found out that's like playing in the minor leagues. It's not where you want to be.”

When asked to compare the feeling of winning a big race like the Fountain of Youth with his accomplishments in baseball, Werth said the biggest difference is that when it comes to racing he is a nervous wreck.

“I never got nervous playing sports,” he said. “Even before big games, the morning of, the day of, I never felt pressure or nervous. I was very comfortable, very calm. Horse racing has been the exact opposite. I get sick to my stomach before a race. I'm experiencing emotions I never knew existed. The winning and losing when it comes to racing is very comparable to winning in the divisional series, winning in the World Series. Having success or failure in racing, that feels very familiar to me. It's the lead-up into the race that gives me panic attacks.”

Dornoch may be his best horse, but he is most passionate about R Calli Kim. After a 55-week layoff, she came back in July and won a $35,000 claimer at Saratoga. That began a four-race win streak that included a victory in the GIII Long Island S. After finishing second in the GIII La Prevoyante S. she returned to the winner's circle in the The Very One.

“She got hurt and then didn't run for a whole year,” he said. “We thought she was done racing and then all of a sudden, she was doing really well and we sent her back to (trainer) Brendan (Walsh) and she has won six of seven. She's such a great horse, so sweet and nice. After my wife, she's my favorite girl in the whole world.”

Werth has been in the sport for just a little over three years and already has a GII Remsen S. winner, a Fountain of Youth winner and could have two horses in this year's Kentucky Derby. The game is supposed to be a lot tougher than that. Werth gets that.

“I've been in the right place at the right time,” he said. “Here we are, just a couple of years into it, and we are having unbelievable luck and success. I'm torn. Yes, I love horse racing but if we tried to do this again I don't know if we'd be this lucky or have a chance of doing some of the stuff we are doing. We're enjoying the fruits of our success. It's been such a great run and we're having a lot of fun with it. It's hard to believe and I tell people that. I could do this for the rest of my life and invest $10 million a year and not be in this position. It's storybook stuff and I am cherishing every second of this. I can guarantee you that isn't lost on me.”

Dornoch, the full brother to 2023 Derby winner Mage (Good Magic), did his job in the Fountain of Youth, but the race became a lot easier Speak Easy (Constitution), Victory Avenue (Arrogate), Merit (Mastery) and Locked (Gun Runner) were all scratched.

“I would not discount Dornoch on any level just because those horses weren't in there,” Werth said. “If they were, I think we would have seen the same result.”

Dornoch will go next in either the GI Florida Derby or the GI Blue Grass S. Trainer Danny Gargan has yet to decide. The Derby, of course, is the main goal. It's the toughest race in the world to win, but one of his owners has one of the hottest hands in the sport. He has that going for him.

“I understand why people spend millions of dollars on chasing this dream,” Werth said. “That's exactly what it is, a dream. What's happening, I think it is incredible.”

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