Barn Notes 4/11/24

Compiled by Robert Yates

John Ortiz trained the first Oaklawn winner sired by champion Runhyappy.

Saturday, Ortiz has a chance to saddle Runhappy’s first Oaklawn graded stakes winner when he starts long shot Happy Is a Choice in the $500,000 G3-Count Fleet Sprint Handicap for owners Brian “Hootie” Moore, WSS Racing (William Simon) and 4 G Racing (Brent and Sharilyn Gasaway).

Happy Is a Choice, riding a two-race winning streak at the meeting, is among eight entrants in the Count Fleet, a six-furlong event for older horses. Probable post time for the Count Fleet, the eighth of 12 races, is 3:56 p.m., CDT. First post is 12:10 p.m.

The Count Fleet field from the rail out: Code Five, Luis Quinonez to ride, 113 pounds, 50-1 on the morning line; Jaxon Traveler, Flavien Prat, 122, 7-2; I’m Wide Awake, Walter De La Cruz, 114, 20-1; Skelly, Ricardo Santana, 125, even money; Perfect Dude, Luis Fuentes, 115, 20-1; Tejano Twist, Cristian Torres, 123, 3-1; Ryvit, Keith Asmussen, 121, 9-2; and Happy Is a Choice, Ramon Vazquez, 117, 20-1.

The Count Fleet will mark the second career stakes appearance for Happy Is a Choice. He finished sixth in the $150,000 Advent for 2-year-old sprinters in December 2022 at Oaklawn. A leg injury subsequently sidelined Happy Is a Choice in 2023 and he returned, gelded, to finish an even fifth in a Jan. 1$140,000 first-level allowance sprint.

Happy Is a Choice cleared his first allowance condition Jan. 26 and his second March 3. All three of the gelding’s starts this year have been at six furlongs, with his Beyer Speed Figures climbing from 82 to 89 to a career-high 92 in his last start when he covered the distance in an eye-catching 1:09.68.

“From the very beginning, when we bought him, I said this is that real Runhappy,” Ortiz said. “He can run. I just think Runhappys need time to develop and mature and this horse has taken his time maturing. We’re super excited for this year. We think this is going to be his year.”

Runhappy, the country’s champion male sprinter of 2015, was represented by his first Oaklawn winner as a sire March 4, 2021, when Ortiz saddled Joyful Cadence to an 8 ¾-length maiden victory at six furlongs. Joyful Cadence, who was campaigned by Simon, a former Walmart executive, was a stakes winner of $571,155. She sold, in foal to unbeaten 2022 Horse of the Year Flightline, for $1.15 million in 2023 Fasig-Tipton’s Kentucky Fall Mixed Sale.

Purchased for $160,000 as a 2-year-old, Happy Is a Choice has a 3-0-1 mark from seven lifetime starts and earnings of $238,800. Happy Is a Choice had been under consideration for the $250,000 G3-Whitmore Stakes March 16, but Ortiz decided to use the allowance race as a bridge to the Count Fleet.

“I wanted to go through my conditions,” Ortiz said. “You can’t leave money on the table, either. This is Oaklawn.”

Ortiz is also scheduled to start his top Arkansas bred, Black Apple, in Sunday’s sixth race, an 8 ½-furlong $141,000 state-bred allowance race. The race is a prep for the $200,000 Arkansas Breeders’ Championship Stakes May 4. Black Apple is a three-time winner at the meet for Ortiz and Arkansas lumberman John Ed Anthony, the winningest owner in Oaklawn history.

Finish Line

Racing resumes Friday at 12:35 p.m. (Central). … Saturday’s 12-race card is highlighted by the $1.25 million G1-Apple Blossom Handicap for older fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles and the $500,000 G3-Count Fleet Sprint Handicap for older horses at six furlongs. … The nine-furlong $1.25 million G2-Oaklawn Handicap for older horses April 20 closed Saturday with 29 nominations, including Octane for trainer Juan Alvarado and Highland Falls for trainer Brad Cox. Octane became a millionaire in his last start, a victory in the $600,000 G3-Razorback Handicap Feb. 24 at Oaklawn. Highland Falls, a 4-year-old son of Oaklawn stakes winners Curlin and Round Pond, finished fourth in his last start, the $400,000 G1-Santa Anita Handicap at 1 ¼ miles March 3 at Santa Anita. … Jockey Erik Asmussen, the youngest son of Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen, is named on 13 horses this week at Oaklawn. Asmussen launched his riding career in November at Churchill Downs and had five mounts at the 2023-2024 Oaklawn meeting before moving his tack to Sam Houston Race Park, which ran Jan. 5-April 7. Asmussen rode 25 winners to finish eighth in the standings. Asmussen (0 for 5 at Oaklawn) is named on 11 horses this week for his father. Steve Asmussen’s oldest son, Keith Asmussen, is Oaklawn’s second-leading rider this season