Barn Notes 3/2/24

Compiled by Robert Yates

Grade 3 winner Hot and Sultry completed major preparations for the March 9 $400,000 G2-Azeri Stakes with a half-mile workout in company Saturday morning for trainer Norm Casse.

Breezing over a fast track immediately following the surface renovation break, Hot and Sultry covered the distance in :48 under eight-time Oaklawn riding champion Ricardo Santana Jr. The track was fast.

Hot and Sultry, who worked with stablemate Effortlesslyelgant, is trying to rebound from a fifth-place finish in the Feb. 2 $250,000 G3-Bayakoa Stakes. The 4-5 favorite in her 2024 debut, Hot and Sultry was beaten 4 ¼ lengths after stumbling badly at the start of the 1 1/16-mile race.

“It is what it is,” Casse said.

The speedy Hot and Sultry completed her 2023 campaign with a front-running eight-length victory in the one-mile $300,000 G3-Chilukki Stakes Nov. 18 at Churchill Downs.

The 1 1/16-mile Azeri is Oaklawn’s final major prep for the $1.25 million G1-Apple Blossom Handicap April 13. Entries will be taken and post positions drawn Sunday for the Azeri.

In addition to Hot and Sultry, the Oaklawn racing department listed five other probables late Saturday morning – Bellamore for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen, Comparative (Brad Cox), Ice Orchid (John Ortiz), Misty Veil (Mike Maker) and Soul of an Angel (Gerald James).

Comparative was a front-running half-length winner of the Bayakoa. Bellamore won the $300,000 Houston Ladies Classic Stakes (G3) at 1 1/16 miles Jan. 27 at Sam Houston.

Ortiz Approaching 100

After a career milestone last summer in New York, trainer John Ortiz is approaching another this winter in Arkansas.

Ortiz has 98 career victories at Oaklawn, including nine this season for a seventh-place tie in the standings. Ortiz has more victories at Oaklawn than any other track and 333 overall entering Saturday, according to Equibase, racing’s official data gathering organization.

“Just slow and steady,” Ortiz said. “It’s Oaklawn. It’s not an easy track, but it’s competitive and that’s what makes it so fun.”

Ortiz, who came up under several trainers, notably Kellyn Gorder, saddled his first career winner Dec. 7, 2016, at Turfway Park. His first Oaklawn victory was Jan. 21, 2017.

Ortiz had a monster 2021-2022 Oaklawn meeting, finishing with 27 victories from 125 starts and purse earnings of $2,670,871. Ortiz ranked third in purse earnings, tied for fourth in victories and was second in stakes victories. All four of Ortiz’s stakes victories were for Arkansas lumberman John Ed Anthony, who established a single-season purse earnings record for owners ($2,083,402) that season.

Ortiz saddled his first career Grade 1 winner, Brightwork, in the $300,000 Spinaway Stakes for 2-year-old fillies Sept. 3 at Saratoga.

Brightwork has been based this winter in south Florida, with Ortiz splitting his stable between Palm Meadows Training Center north of Miami and Oaklawn.

Ortiz has around 25 horses at Oaklawn, including stakes-placed Ice Orchid and Arkansas-bred standout Black Apple. Both are homebreds for Anthony, the winningest owner in Oaklawn history. Ortiz has also claimed five horses at the meeting – one for himself, one for major client 4 G Racing (Arkansans Brent and Sharilyn Gasaway) and three others in partnership with 4 G.

“I look up to Steve Asmussen a lot,” Ortiz said, referring to North America’s all-time winningest trainer. “He’s a role model. Steve claims a lot for himself and there’s got to be a reason, a good reason for it. I started claiming a little bit more on my own and with the Gasaways, just to keep me active. It’s helped me handicapping and looking at the form of horses. When you have a lot of maidens, there’s not much you can handicap.

“I missed the claiming level, so we’re trying to partner up and have a little fun together. They’re like family, my closest friends on the backside. It’s fun.”

Ortiz and 4 G have won two races together at the meeting with Master of Arms, a $16,000 claim Dec. 15 at Oaklawn.

Ortiz has three horses entered Sunday at Oaklawn.

Finish Lines

Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen recorded his meet-high 40th victory this season at Oaklawn in Friday’s fourth race with Molly of Stratford ($6.80). The late Cole Norman set Oaklawn’s single-season record for victories by a trainer (71) in 2003. Friday was Day 31 of the scheduled 64-day meeting. ... Oaklawn’s leading rider, Cristian Torres, escaped serious injury when he was involved in an incident at the starting gate aboard Alder before Friday’s ninth race. Torres took off his final mount. Alder, who was scratched, wasn’t seriously injured. … Jockey Kylee Jordan (dislocated left shoulder) could resume riding in approximately 60 days after undergoing surgery Thursday, her agent, Bobby Dean, said Saturday morning. Jordan hasn’t ridden since Feb. 2, when she was injured winning the fourth race. “Everything went well,” Dean said. “Maybe we can catch the tail end of Oaklawn. We’re pointing for a return at Prairie Meadows.” Oaklawn’s meeting ends May 5. … Ramsey Zimmerman recorded his 1,799th career North American victory aboard favored Happymac ($5) in Friday’s sixth race at Oaklawn, according to Equibase, racing’s official data gathering organization.