Jayson Werth's Love Of Horse Racing After Baseball Has Led Him To The Kentucky Derby

Kentucky Derby hopeful Dornoch, front, works out at Churchill Downs Tuesday, April 30, 2024, in Louisville, Ky. The 150th running of the Kentucky Derby is scheduled for Saturday, May 4. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Kentucky Derby hopeful Dornoch, front, works out at Churchill Downs Tuesday, April 30, 2024, in Louisville, Ky. The 150th running of the Kentucky Derby is scheduled for Saturday, May 4. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
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Jayson Werth got to Churchill Downs in the middle of Kentucky Derby week and was overcome by a familiar feeling.

“It has some fragrance of the World Series,” he said. “Things are totally different now. We’re at the barns, roads are blocked off, there’s security everywhere. It’s definitely heightened, and you get the sense, ‘This is it, this is the highest level of the sport.’”

Werth won the World Series with Philadelphia and played 63 playoff games during his major league career with the Toronto Blue Jays, Los Angeles Dodgers, Phillies and Nationals, and still nothing compares with the adrenaline rush of his new favorite sport. The retired outfielder has shares of more than a dozen thoroughbreds, and on Saturday has the chance to become a Kentucky Derby-winning owner with Dornoch running in the 150th running of the famous race.

“It’s surreal: We kind of got into this as a hobby, and it’s turned into a passion," Werth told The Associated Press by phone. “I’ve got a passion for the sport like I would’ve never thought, and I want to share it with the world."

Werth has used horse racing to fill the competitive void baseball once did, a few years after learning about the sport from golfing buddy Rich Averill, who has been involved in the industry for decades.

Having a prominent athlete espousing his love for horse racing certainly doesn't hurt as work is ongoing to bring in new fans.

“The connection between racing and professional sports has always been strong, going all the way back to Babe Ruth, who loved to bet the horses,” said NBC Sports analyst Randy Moss, who is working his 44th Derby this weekend. “Especially when an athlete like Jayson Werth buys into a few horses and actually makes it into the Derby.”

Werth thinks regular people owning racehorses — even micro shares like 2023 Derby winner Mage, a full brother of Dornoch — is a way into the sport that has historically had a high barrier of entry because of costs. He describes watching a race now like being in the dugout with a teammate trying to round the bases to score and win a game.

Werth, whose stable Two Eight Racing is a nod to his jersey No. 28 with the Dodgers, Phillies and Nationals, is looking into starting an ownership collective to “do something on a much larger scale in horse racing.” Werth has 10% of Dornoch and similar percentages of other horses.

But first, there's the Derby, with Dornoch trained by Danny Gargan and ridden by Luis Saez, breaking from the rail. Werth was upset about Dornoch getting the No. 1 spot inside before recalling the horse likes to sprint out to the lead. The horse is a long shot that opened at 20-1.

“I really do think this could be a perfect storm of us,” Werth said. “If Dornoch can skid out in front and stay on the lead and keep the dirt off his face, I think we’ve got a real shot.”


A filly has dropped out of the Kentucky Oaks ahead of Friday's $1.5 million race at Churchill Downs.

Tapit Jenallie was withdrawn Thursday because of a slight injury to her back end, trainer Eddie Milligan Jr. said. She was 30-1 on the morning line.

“We felt like she’s just too nice of a filly to do anything detrimental to her health,” Milligan said. "It’s very disappointing, very disheartening, but that’s how this game is.”

He said Tapit Jenallie will get an extended break from racing and be re-evaluated.

Our Pretty Woman moves into the Oaks from the also-eligible list. She's trained by Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen and will be ridden by Joel Rosario, who was just elected to racing's Hall of Fame.


Whit Beckman is back at his Churchill Downs barn and overseeing Derby preparations for Honor Marie after getting out of the hospital.

The 42-year-old trainer from Louisville was diagnosed with rhabdomyolyis, a potentially serious condition in which damaged muscle tissue releases its proteins into the blood, which can damage the heart and kidneys, according to the Daily Racing Form. He was hospitalized for five days.

Beckman said his legs were numb and he couldn't walk last Friday. He said he had a blood infection and received fluids in the hospital.


AP Racing Writer Beth Harris and AP Sports Writer Gary B. Graves in Louisville, Kentucky, contributed to this report.


AP horse racing: https://apnews.com/hub/horse-racing