‘Disappointed but not devastated’: West Paces Racing’s horses finish 10th, 16th at Kentucky Derby

Society Man competes in the Wood Memorial Stakes at Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens, New York. Photo courtesy of West Paces Racing

Though neither of the horses they own finished in the top three at the Kentucky Derby, West Paces Racing’s two co-founders said it was an experience they’ll never forget.

WPR, a Buckhead-based equine ownership syndicate, was the only ownership group to have two thoroughbreds in the Derby, which took place May 4 at Churchill Downs in Louisville. Dornoch (pronounced “Door-Nick”), whose odds of winning were 22-1, finished 10th, and Society Man, a 44-1 longshot, placed 16th. WPR has 33% ownership in both horses, and former Major League Baseball player Jayson Werth owns 10% of Dornoch.

“Disappointed but not devastated,” WPR co-founder Keith Mason said. “[I’m] pleased that our horses came out of the race both healthy and the jockeys were safe and no one got hurt. That’s a good thing. We have nothing to be ashamed of in terms of their abilities to race.”

Fellow co-founder Larry Connolly added, “I think while we’re a little bit disappointed in not having a better result, I can honestly say the West Paces Racing partnership had an incredible week and the superlatives, the smiles of all of our partners participating in the festivities along with members of their family, I think it exceeded expectations and then some. I think we’ll have some horse enthusiasts for life as a result.”

Proud of horses despite finishes

Mystik Dan won the Derby, beating Sierra Leone by a nose, with Sierra Leone edging Forever Young by a nose, too. According to twinspires.com, it was the closest finish for the top three finishers in the race’s 150-year history.

Connolly said having Dornoch and Society Man in the two worst starting positions, Nos. 1 and 20, respectively, in the 20-horse field meant “we had our work cut out for us.” Dornoch, which had beaten Sierra Leone, in a qualifying race in December, had a good chance of finishing high at the Derby but didn’t start strong.

“Unfortunately, two things happened,” Connolly said. “One, it wasn’t a horrible break but he didn’t start that sharply, and second, the [No.] 3 horse, Mystic Dan, veered early to his left, cutting off our horse such that as soon as he broke, he had to pull the reins to prevent a collision. That also had the effect of causing Dornoch, who needed to be in the front, to fall to mid-pack on the rail, having to deal with traffic issues.”

He added that winning the Derby is so difficult that luck is a big part of it.

“The biggest disappointment for me was we didn’t get to see Dornoch at his best,” Connolly said. “He had no chance to display how good he was or not. I don’t want to sound like sour grapes because that race is so hard to win. Having good racing luck, it doesn’t matter how good a horse you are. In order to win that race, you have to have good luck. Having said that, we’re not down on the horse.

As for Society Man, the co-founders were pleased he finished 16th and just behind Fierceness, a Derby favorite that led the race early on before falling to 15th place.

Danny Gargan, the trainer for both Dornoch and Society Man, is a Louisville native whose father, also named Danny, was a jockey. He said those two horses are among the three WPR owns that he’s training, and the third Justdeny, a filly, couldn’t qualify for the Derby. So for the syndicate to have two thoroughbreds in the race was amazing, Gargan said.

“Winning’s a miracle,” he said of the Derby. “Dornoch had a rough trip. We’re still proud of the race he ran. He showed a lot of heart. With Society Man we were taking a chance and were taking a step up. But the Derby every year, it’s fun to be a part of.”

‘Once in a lifetime’

The co-founders previously were part owners of Derby horses in 2015 with Keen Ice and 2022 with Mo Donegal when they were members of the Donegal Racing syndicate before starting WPR in 2019. As such, Connolly, who’s attended the Derby about 10 times, and Mason, who’s gone at least 20 times, said this year was much different.

“It’s a world of difference to have someone in the Derby, much less two, as for us as being there as a horseman with some on the undercard,” Mason said. “Number one, it was a thrill, take nothing away from the other horses we’ve had. But in those cases, I’ll say for myself, we were in Delta comfort seats. We were in the cockpit with these. And then if you’re a spectator, you’re back in coach.”

Regarding their next races, Connolly said WPR is considering having Dornoch compete in the Belmont Stakes June 8 in Elmont, New York, the last leg of the Triple Crown, but not in the Preakness Stakes May 18 in Baltimore, the second leg, because it’s too soon. Society Man could compete in some Grade 2 or 3 (lower-level) races in Ohio, Pennsylvania or West Virginia.

Gargan said having 10% of the field and two of the 18 American horses in the Derby (two slots go to Japanese horses) is amazing.

“Being able to get there and have that experience and share it with your owners, it’s a special thing,” he said. “It’s probably once in a lifetime for the owners.”Mason added, “It’s just a whole different experience when you’ve got one [horse in the Derby], and then to have two, it’s such a boost to us. The thing I enjoyed the most about it was getting people in Atlanta and other places where I have a network of friends to start following the sport. That’s been the most rewarding to me, to hear from people who are casual fans or totally new to the sport to start showing an interest in it. I think that will continue, and that’s a good thing.”

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