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‘Epic weekend’ shows how Gargan’s stable has progressed

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For a trainer who lacks numbers, sweeping the Belmont Stakes with Dornoch on Saturday and the Grade 3 Matt Winn Stakes with Society Man the following day meant everything to Danny Gargan.

The Louisville native called it an “epic weekend,” and it was all of that since he opened his stable in 2013. Dornoch, his first Grade 1 winner, and Society Man were among only five colts who entered his barn last year and were not New York-breds. They were the only two colts he purchased at Keeneland’s September yearling sale.

Gargan, 52, was most proud of how powerfully they rebounded from difficult Kentucky Derby experiences. Dornoch, a full brother to last year’s Derby winner Mage, had the misfortune to break from the rail and endured a brutal trip that included being checked hard by Luis Saez near the quarter pole. He did well to finish 10th. Society Man was never a factor and came in 16th of 20.

Gargan grew up five blocks from Churchill Downs. He often rode his bike there and recalls working as a hotwalker at the track when he was 12 or 13. Although he had hoped for better results from his two Derby starters, he also worried about how they would come out of what is typically a roughly run race with a full field.

“A lot of horses who run in the Derby never win again. It tears them up,” he said. “I’m super proud to have two horses run in the Derby and win their next out. It’s hard to do.”

Gargan saddled his only other Derby starter in 2019. Tax, a horse he claimed for $50,000 the previous October, finished 14th.

The experience inspired the then-claiming trainer to want more. “You’re in that environment and it’s something you want to be part of. We call them Saturday horses,” he said. “I just wanted to have a chance to have the caliber of horses that turn into stakes horses. When you get them when they’re young and take care of them and develop them, it’s something I’ve always wanted to do.”

Owners Randy Hill and Dean Reeves encouraged him to start fresh with young stock instead of searching for ways to improve horses who already had been put through the grind by other trainers. They provided him with the resources he needed to begin that transition.

Hill had been part of the Tax ownership group and was impressed by Gargan’s handling of him. Although others viewed Tax as a turf horse, he was convinced he belonged on dirt.

“Danny proved to be right,” Hill said.

Tax went on from the Derby to be fourth in the Belmont and then win the Jim Dandy (G2) at Saratoga. He continued to have some success until he was retired in 2023.

Gargan has shown the ability to achieve early results. He won the Nashua Stakes (G3) with Champions Dream in 2022. He captured the last two editions of the Remsen (G2) with Dubyuhnell in 2022 and last Dec. 2, when Dornoch fought back to edge Sierra Leone by a determined nose at Aqueduct.

There is nothing like winning a Triple Crown race to draw attention to what a trainer can do. Hill is optimistic that his latest success will create the opportunity for him to oversee more well-bred prospects.

“He won a Triple Crown race with a 17-1 shot. It’s not like he ran the favorite,” Hill noted. “He did a great job of training the horse, so that’s going to come to people’s attention. He certainly solidified himself as a trainer.”

Gargan can enhance his credentials more if Dornoch and Society Man continue to make their mark. With Dornoch, he likely will use the July 20 Haskell (G1) or the July 27 Jim Dandy (G2) as a prep for the Aug. 24 Travers (G1).

“The Haskell is a Grade 1. It’s a million-dollar race, so obviously that is something we will be thinking about,” the trainer said. “We’ll try to figure out which race fits us better, which race has less speed.” Dornoch does his best running when he is on or close to the lead.

The Aug. 4 West Virginia Derby (G3) at Mountaineer and the Sept. 14 Super Derby at Louisiana Downs are probable targets for the gelded Society Man.

The future of Gargan’s operation might hinge on how well he can build on his “epic weekend.”

“If he gets the right horses,” Hill said, “I think he can be a prominent trainer.”

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