Phillies’ Champ Werth Scores Amazing Sporting Double As Dornoch Wins Belmont

Written By Dave Briggs on June 10, 2024
Former Philadelphia Phillies star Jayson Werth raises the Belmont trophy after his horse Dornoch won the 156th Belmont Stakes on June 8 at Saratoga. Jayson Werth won a World Series with the Phillies, now he has captured the third leg of the Triple Crown with his colt Dornoch.

Former Philadelphia Phillies star Jayson Werth is widely believed to be the first person to win a World Series and the Belmont Stakes after his colt Dornoch romped to victory on Saturday at Saratoga Race Course.

Werth, who was on the Phillies’ 2008 championship squad, is a part-owner of Dornoch. The younger brother of 2023 Kentucky Derby winner Mage, hugged the rail and held off Mindframe to win the 156th Belmont, the third leg of the Triple Crown, at odds of 17-1.

Afterward, Werth (above, raising the August Belmont Memorial Cup) told the Associated Press, “I would put [winning the Belmont] right up there with winning on the biggest stage. Horse racing is the most underrated sport in the world, bar none. It’s the biggest game: You get the Derby, the Preakness, the Belmont. We just won the Belmont. This is as good as it gets in horse racing. It’s as good as it gets in sports.”

Werth in “state of utter anxiety” on race day

Speaking to PlayPennsylvania just prior to Dornoch’s locked-in, 10th-place finish in the Derby, Werth said horse racing has tested his stress level beyond what he experienced in baseball.

“I’ve been telling people how I am just one big ball of nerves and how that’s so different from when I played [baseball],” he said.

“Yes, it replaces a void in my life with the competitive spirit nature and all the juices and all that stuff, but it also has created something that I’ve never really experienced before — that’s the state of utter anxiety that I find myself in on race day and leading up to up to the race and during the race… It’s like that feeling when you’re in the dugout, and there’s a guy on first and somebody gets a hit and you’re waving them home. I’m kind of running with [Dornoch].”

That was evidenced by a video America’s Best Racing posted on X of Werth screaming Dornoch to victory.

Werth accomplishes what another Philly legend could not

Werth’s Belmont triumph comes 20 years after another Philly legend failed, by mere nose hairs, to bring the city a Triple Crown.

Philadelphia born, bred and based superstar Smarty Jones only suffered one defeat in his career. That came when he was passed by longshot Birdstone just before the wire in the Belmont.

The attendance of more than 120,000 for the 2004 Belmont still stands as a modern-day record for that race.

And, Smarty Jones is widely credited with ushering in Pennsylvania’s expanded gambling era. Today, the state’s gambling sector produces revenue of more than $5.5 billion annually.

While Werth was disappointed that Dornoch did not win the Derby, even before the colt’s troubled trip at Churchill Downs the former MLB star sounded philosophical and particularly prescient in the aftermath of a Belmont triumph.

“The patience that I learned playing baseball has definitely helped me in horse racing,” he told PlayPennsylvania. “If you had a bad at bat, usually you get another at bat in about an hour.”

Werth’s journey with horses began with standardbreds in Illinois

Werth is a relative newcomer to owning horses, but his journey with horses began in Springfield, IL as a child.

He lived near a standardbred farm — the breed of horses produced at Pennsylvania’s famed Hanover Shoe Farms that go on to pull drivers in sulkies at Pennsylvania tracks like The Meadows and Harrah’s Philadelphia.

“It was a guy named Bob Neal,” Werth told PlayPennsylvania. “He had a farm near Springfield, west of town. It was close to Rochester or right by there. I was in sixth grade and became friends with them and helped them out a little bit here and there.

“We moved like a year later. But, I saw enough that I liked horses and I like being around horses. It didn’t last very long, but it kind of stuck with me. So I’ve always been interested.”

Horse ownership only came after Werth’s baseball career ended with the Nationals in 2017.

Now he is a Belmont winner with one of the first yearlings he has ever bought at auction.

Dornoch was one of the first yearlings Werth ever bought

In 2021, Werth was playing golf with some thoroughbred owners in Florida. After a round, the group convened to the clubhouse where the owners asked to have the races put on a TV. The owners were so excited watching their horses race, Werth inquired about getting into the game.

Just a year later, he bought pieces of his first yearlings at auction. In that group was Dornoch, bought by Werth and race horse management group Oracle Bloodstock for $325,000 at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale in Kentucky. That price turned out to be a steal considering, eight months later, Dornoch’s older brother, Mage, won the Derby.

“The first time that I bought yearlings was two years ago,” he told PlayPennsylvania. “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.”

The karma continued with Dornoch’s name (thoroughbred yearlings are unnamed when sold at auction).

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.”

Even crazier, Dornoch is now ‘werth’ millions

Staying humble may be difficult. Werth now is part-owner of a horse set to make millions as a stallion.

Mage was retired at the end of 2023 and now stands at Airdrie Stud in Kentucky. His stud fee is $25,000 per breeding.

A Belmont winner that is a full-brother to a Derby winner will make Dornoch a lucrative prospect. And he is not done racing, yet.

Gargan said the Haskell at New Jersey’s Monmouth Park (July 20) or either the Jim Dandy (July 27) or Travers Stakes (Aug. 24), both at Saratoga are options.

The Breeders’ Cup will be held Nov. 1-2 at Del-Mar.

Dornoch is the Ray Lewis of horses

Put aside the money. 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 told PlayPennsylvania.

“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 through the journey.

Werth, 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, he 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.. 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 Julia Nikhinson / AP Photo
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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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