Dornoch springs Belmont Stakes upset

Adapted from a NYRA release

The sold-out crowd of 50,000 fans at Saratoga watched with bated breath as the pace-pressing Dornoch clung to the lead in the final eighth of a mile with the lightly raced Maryland-bred Mindframe charging furiously to his outside. 

But Dornoch would not be denied, claiming victory by a half-length in Saturday’s Belmont Stakes, held for the first time at Saratoga. Due to the configuration of Saratoga’s main track, the Belmont Stakes was contested at 1 1/4-miles rather than the traditional 1 1/2-miles.

Trained by Danny Gargan for West Paces Racing, R. A. Hill Stable, Belmar Racing and Breeding, Two Eight Racing and Pine Racing Stables, Dornoch, by Good Magic, became the second Classic winner for his dam, the graded stakes-placed Puca, after his full-brother Mage won last year’s Grade 1 Kentucky Derby. Dornoch became the first Grade 1-winner for Gargan.

“I’m still just taking it in. It’s pretty exciting,” Gargan said. “It’s a special thing just to be a part of these races, not to mention to win one with a horse you bought at Keeneland and have had it for its whole [racing] life. I spend so much time with him and my staff has done such a great job with him.”

“Nobody ever wake me up. I’ll be damn mad. Let me keep dreaming,” Randy Hill. of R. A. Hill Stable, said. “I said to my partners, to Danny and Luis, ‘Let’s run our race today, let’s get the lead, and if anybody can beat us, let them come and get us.’”

Dornoch broke well, but Plan A was foiled after Preakness Stakes winner Seize the Grey, under jockey Jaime Torres, seized the initiative.

“You are always going to have a Plan B,” Saez said of Seize the Grey’s early push for control. “The plan was to try to take the lead, but we couldn’t. We were in the perfect spot so I just let him be comfortable. He did what he was supposed to do. He finished pretty well.”

Dornoch raced in the two-path while Resilience rode the rail in third with the Irad Ortiz, Jr.-piloted Mindframe following the run of Dornoch to inch up into contention heading into the backstretch. Saez kept a snug hold of Dornoch to let Seize the Grey do the legwork, marking a half-mile in 47.25 while the late-running Sierra Leone, the post-time favorite, dawdled towards the rear.

After a mile in 1:35.51, Dornoch had a head in front of the faltering Seize the Grey. Meanwhile, Mindframe and Irad Ortiz, Jr. were revving up their run, just a half-length behind. Sierra Leone, meanwhile, was still last but less than six lengths back. 

“At that point, I thought the other horse was going to beat us,” Saez said. “But Dornoch, he kept finding. He never let the other one get by. Pretty nice horse, big heart.”

He looked a winner, but the inexperienced Mindframe veered out sharply when asked for his best by Ortiz, Jr. with a left-handed crop, while Dornoch maintained his rail position with his ears pinned in determination.

Mindframe closed the gap willingly despite wandering, and Sierra Leone mounted a late challenge, but Dornoch had enough left to turn back his challengers and post the 17-1 upset victory under a celebrating Saez in a final time of 2:01.64.

Dornoch won the Belmont Stakes at Saratoga. Photo by Adam Coglianese.

Mindframe finished second, one length ahead of Sierra Leone, with another four lengths back to Honor Marie. Antiquarian, Protective, Seize the Grey, Mystik Dan, The Wine Steward and Resilience completed the order of finish.

The win marked the second Belmont Stakes for Saez, a 32-year-old native of Panama, who guided Essential Quality to victory in 2021 at the race’s traditional 12-furlong distance. 

“It was a pretty good race. The horse broke pretty sharp,” Saez said. “The position we were looking for. He did everything right. He came to the top of the stretch, I still have a lot of horse and he fights. He fights to get there first. He’s a horse that really has a big heart and man, he ran the perfect race.”

Mindframe, a son of Constitution bred in Maryland by R. Larry Johnson, was purchased as a yearling for $600,000 by owners Repole Stable and St. Elias Stables. Mindframe had won his first two starts, against maiden and allowance foes, by more than 20 lengths combined, and he validated his early promise with Saturday’s performance.

In the weeks leading up to the Belmont Stakes, his trainer, Todd Pletcher, who also saddled Antiquarian and Protective, had fretted about the horse’s lack of experience, which ultimately bit him at precisely the wrong moment.

“It’s just his third start and first time at this distance. First time he’s really been challenged; all the things we were concerned about,” Pletcher said. “If he could have run a straight course down the lane, that would have been the difference. Irad felt like he just lost that little bit of focus. He was still coming at the end.

“It verifies what we thought of him,” Pletcher continued. “He showed so much talent in those two races but now we had to test him and see where he fit with the big horses.”

Ortiz, Jr., who won three graded stakes on Saturday’s card, was in agreement. 

“It was beautiful. A great trip. For a second, I thought I was going to get there,” the rider said. “It’s only his third start, so he showed a lot. He had only a little experience, but these horses, they’ve been running everywhere and had a lot more races than him. I think it was a great effort from him.”

Bred in Kentucky by Grandview Equine, Dornoch was a $325,000 purchase at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale. He banked $1.2 million for his Belmont Stakes triumph, bringing his bankroll to $1,752,275 through a record of 8-4-2-0. He returned $37.40 for a $2 win wager.