Barn Notes 12/8/23

Compiled by Robert Yates

Trainer John Ortiz lives in Kentucky, but business again has his horses wintering in Arkansas, and for the first time Florida.

“This year, unfortunately, I told my wife she’s going to have to come down to visit in Florida,” Ortiz said on the eve of Friday’s Oaklawn opening. “I’m going to try to be three weeks on here and one week in Florida. Try to spread it out even, but focus on the track here, the races here, as much as we can.”

Ortiz had previously split his stable between Arkansas and Kentucky in the winter. Now, Ortiz said he has roughly 30 horses under the care of younger brother Daniel at Palm Meadows Training Center, about 50 miles north of Miami, and some 25 at Oaklawn.

John Ortiz had two winners last month at Gulfstream Park in suburban Miami.

Ortiz cited better weather as a major factor for the move, adding it allows his horses to maintain a more consistent training schedule.

“We’re going to have all horses that we need to leg up get started in Florida,” Ortiz said. “Have them ready for the end of the meet here.”

Oaklawn’s scheduled 66-day meeting concludes May 4.

One horse headed to Palm Meadows, Ortiz said, is Grade 1 winner Brightwork, among the country’s top 2-year-old fillies of 2023.

Brightwork won the $300,000 Spinaway Stakes Sept. 3 at Saratoga, marking the first career Grade 1 victory for Ortiz. He saddled his first winner in 2016.

Ortiz said Brightwork is vacationing at WinStar Farm in Kentucky after finishing sixth in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) Nov. 3 at Santa Anita.

“We’re definitely looking at our (Kentucky) Oaks options here, for sure,” Ortiz said. "But time will tell.”

Ortiz’s Oaklawn contingent includes Top Gunner, who is entered in the $150,000 Ring the Bell Stakes, and Ice Orchid, the 7-2 program favorite for the $150,000 Mistletoe Stakes. Both races are Saturday.

Ortiz had a monster 2021-2022 Oaklawn meeting, finishing with 27 victories to tie for fourth in the standings and amassing $2,670,871 in purses. He dipped to nine victories and $825,337 in purse earnings last season.

“Take the good with the bad,” Ortiz said. “And you know, this is a game that’s a big wave and you’ve got to ride the tide sometimes.”

A Journey (Woman)

Jockey McKenna Anderson begins her first full meet as a journeyman Friday, Day 1 of Oaklawn’s scheduled 66-day season.

Anderson is named on Art Queen in Friday’s 10th race for trainer John Ortiz and three horses Saturday.

Anderson, 24, worked as an exercise rider for Ortiz at the 2022-2023 Oaklawn meeting. They subsequently teamed to win 25 percent of their starts (4 for 16) at Horseshoe Indianapolis, where Anderson shared leading apprentice honors with 16 victories.

“We have plenty of horses here to use her, but this is a big jockey colony, too, and you’ve got plenty of choices,” Ortiz said. “But McKenna, she can get a horse to run. They just run for her.”

Anderson, a native of Vashon Island, Wash., was winless in three mounts as an apprentice last season at Oaklawn. Anderson’s career took off at Horseshoe Indianapolis, which ran April 18-Nov. 17. In addition to being co-leading apprentice, Anderson finished with 24 victories overall to tie for 10th in the standings.

Anderson said she lost her apprentice weight allowance in early September and “started winning races right away.”

“I’d like to at least win five or more races this meet,” Anderson said. “I’m coming down with an agent, so that sets me up a lot better.”

Retired jockey Don Pettinger represents Anderson, who has 40 career victories. She was also leading apprentice in 2021 at Emerald Downs in Washington State.

Finish Lines

Lynn Chleborad enters the 2023-2024 meeting with a 135-131 lead over Ingrid Mason in the race for winningest female trainer in Oaklawn history. … Jockey Erik Asmussen is named to ride What a Country for his father, Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen, in Saturday’s first race at Oaklawn. Erik Asmussen, 21, launched his riding career last month and is winless in four career mounts. “If I don’t do it now, I’ll always wonder,” said Asmussen, the younger brother of jockey Keith Asmussen. Erik Asmussen said he plans to ride at Sam Houston when it opens Jan. 5. … “Oaklawn Raceday,” featuring host Justin Acri, David Longinotti, director of Oaklawn Anywhere, and Equibase representative Jeff Taylor, can be heard Saturdays 11 a.m.-11:30 a.m. (Central) during the 2023-2024 meeting on Little Rock, Ark., radio station KABZ-FM 103.7 and