Former Phillie Jayson Werth Would Make History With Kentucky Derby Victory

Written By Dave Briggs on May 2, 2024 - Last Updated on May 7, 2024
Former Philadelpha Phillies player Jayson Werth during the 2008 championship season. If his colt Dornoch shines on Saturday at Churchill, Phillie Jayson Werth would become the first to win a World Series and a Kentucky Derby.

Former Philadelphia Phillies star Jayson Werth is on the brink of an amazing daily double and he admits he is in “emotional distress.”

If Dornoch wins Saturday’s Kentucky Derby, Werth would become the first person in sporting history to win both a World Series and a Derby in the race’s 150-year history.

Werth, who was on the Phillies’ 2008 championship squad, is a part-owner of Dornoch, who starts from Post 1 in the 20-horse field that will go off at Churchill Downs at 6:57 p.m. ET.

Reached by phone in Louisville, Werth told PlayPennsylvania on Thursday that the weight of that moment is not lost on him.

“We’re staring history straight in the face, and there’s nothing I can do about it,” Werth said, referring to the challenge of being an athlete who has zero control over an athletic event.

“That’s the part that drives me crazy. On race day, it’s been well-documented what a big ball of nerves I am and that’s so different from how I was when I played [baseball].

“Yes, [horse racing] replaces a void in my life in terms of the competitive nature and all the competitive juices that go with it, but it also has created something that I’ve never really experienced before and that’s the state of utter anxiety that I find myself in on race day and leading up to the race and during the race.”

Dornoch on the cusp of history in other ways

Winning a World Series and a Derby in one lifetime would be incredible enough, but that’s not the only amazing first that will happen should Dornoch overcome Post 1 and Kentucky Derby betting odds that have him at 20-1 in the morning line.

Take away the World Series for a second. It is believed Werth would also become the first person who played Major League Baseball to own a Derby winner.

And, it would also be the first time full-brothers have both won the Derby. In 2023, Dornoch’s full-brother Mage won the 149th Run for the Roses.

All of which likely makes a victory by Dornoch all the more improbable.

But Werth is trying to enjoy the ride during an insane week and not dive too deeply into the sabermetrics.

After all, he believes he has karma on his side.

Werth brings considerable karma to Dornoch

In horse racing, beginners are believed to have been imbued with more than their share of luck. Consider that Werth has landed in the Kentucky Derby with one of the first horses he has ever owned.

“The first time that I bought yearlings was two years ago,” he said. “I bought parts of five colts and one was Dornoch and the other one was Drip. He would have been the favorite in the Tampa Bay Derby, but getting on the van on the way over, the trainer saw him take a weird step… He has a little hairline fracture. He’s gonna be fine. And I think he’s got a huge career ahead of him.”

Then there is Dornoch’s name.

Last June, Werth was playing golf with former Phillies teammate Chase Utley at at Royal Dornoch in Scotland. When Werth got home, he called Dornoch’s trainer, Danny Gargan, to get an update on the colt. Werth asked if the horse had a name yet, and the trainer told him, “Yeah, we named him Dornoch.”

“You can start to see the universe line up a little bit, which makes it even crazier… [But] the last thing I want to do is think that this is easy and this is how it goes because I know it’s not,” Werth said.

“I’m trying to stay very humble in a time that is very crazy.”

That this year’s Derby comes 20 years after another Philly hero, Smarty Jones, won the 2004 Kentucky Derby, is further proof Werth has karma on his side.

Even devastating post position now doesn’t seem so bad

Even drawing dreaded Post 1 doesn’t seem that bad as the Derby creeps closer to post time.

“I’ve probably never been so upset with an outcome of anything in the moment,” Werth said of last Saturday’s draw. “But as time goes on and you get a chance to study and look at it, I feel a lot better about it.

“If he breaks well, I think we’ll be in good shape… But, at first, it felt like it was all for nothing. He drew the one and then they mispronounced his name. It was early on in the draw and it was awful.”

But the more Werth thought about it, he realized four or five of the horses starting beside Dornoch are more likely to be closers than leavers, giving Dornoch a great opportunity to get in the mix early.

The former Phillie already knows Dornoch possesses incredible athleticism and presence.

Dornoch is “a physical freak” with the presence of Ray Lewis

Dornoch working out at Churchill Downs on April 30, 2024 in preparation for the Kentucky Derby.
Kentucky Derby hopeful Dornoch (front) working out at Churchill Downs on Tuesday. (Charlie Riedel / AP Photo)

You can hear in Werth’s voice how much he has fallen in love with Dornoch.

“He’s a physical freak, he’s gorgeous,” Werth said. “He’s big, he’s lean, he’s muscular, he moves well. I know human anatomy a lot better than horse anatomy, but when you watch him, he just moves so elegantly. He’s just a really big, pretty guy. And there’s something about his presence when you get to know him a little bit, and then you see him on race day and you can see there’s something special there.”

Asked to compare Dornoch to any athletes he’s been around, Werth said the horse reminds him of Baltimore Ravens Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis.

“[Dornoch] does have that room-filling, big presence of Ray Lewis,” Werth said. “We had the same agent… I can’t think of any other athletes that I’ve been around that have had that big of a presence. I played against Barry Bonds, but I didn’t really spend any time with him, but he was a big-presence guy.

“The other side of Dornoch is he’s engaging… You just go see him and his eyes light up and he looks at you and his ears are always up. There’s something about him. It’s hard to really explain. But when you look at where we’re at and what we’re trying to achieve, it all makes sense. We’re backing our main man Dornoch.”

He said it helps to feel that he has Philly on his side, as well.

Dornoch and Philly: “We all ride together”

Werth played 15 seasons in the MLB for Toronto, the Dodgers, the Phillies and Nationals. But some of his best years came in Philadelphia from 2007-2010.

In 2008, Werth hit three home runs in a game for Philadelphia. He even recorded the second-to-last out on a line drive to right field in the Oct. 29 game at Citizens Bank Park that clinched the World Series for the Phillies over the Tampa Bay Rays.

“There were a lot of great people in and around that team,” Werth said of the ’08 Phillies. “It was a very special time for a lot of people and hopefully we can take that and harness that and back Dornoch coming into the Derby.

“We all ride together… I know everybody’s going to be cheering for him because of that connection and I definitely appreciate it. Hopefully, he can he can get it done for everyone and be a lightning rod of a Philly theme.”

Photo by Tom Mihalek / AP Photo (left) and Chris O'Meara / AP Photo (right)
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Dave Briggs

Dave Briggs is a managing editor and writer for Catena Media. His expertise is covering the gambling industry in Pennsylvania with an emphasis on online casino, online sports betting and horse racing sectors. He is currently reporting on the gambling industries in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Canada.

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