Jockey Francisco Arrieta Making a Mark in First Oaklawn Meet
Francisco Arrieta points his right index finger to the sky following each victory. The jockey said it’s not about finishing No. 1, but acknowledging the heavens.
Arrieta had raised his right arm 19 times through Saturday, the 18th day of racing at Oaklawn. In a room full of newcomers at the 2021 meet, Arrieta has clearly made the biggest impression, trailing only seven-time local riding champion Ricardo Santana Jr. in the standings. Santana ended Saturday with 21 victories. Arrieta’s purse earnings of $886,253, from 82 mounts through Saturday, ranked third.
“Everybody told me it’s really tough here,” Arrieta, 32, said during training hours Friday morning. “But I’ve got belief. When you believe and get the opportunity, if you get the opportunity … now I’m doing really good.”
Arrieta credited his strong start to Jay Fedor, the jockey’s well-connected agent who represented Martin Garcia, Oaklawn’s co-second-leading rider at the 2020 meet. Fedor said after splitting with Garcia, he began searching for a 2021 replacement and “cold-called” Arrieta, then riding at Fair Grounds, in December. Arrieta said he planned to ride the 2020-2021 Fair Grounds meet before Fedor convinced him to move his tack to Oaklawn.
“Looked up his record and watched a few of his races and called him,” Fedor said. “Good kid. Generally, for the last few years, I’ve had a name that I could walk in the door with – (Gary) Stevens, (Robby) Albarado, Stewart Elliott, Martin, (Corey) Nakatani, Michael Baze – so this was a challenge that excited me, taking somebody that I was pretty certain that not many would know. A few people knew him, but I got lucky.”
Through Saturday, Arrieta had ridden his 19 winners for 10 trainers. They were Cipriano Contreras (5 victories), Jason Barkley (4), Jerry Hollendorfer (3), Aidan Green (1), Jimmy DiVito (1), Joe Sharp (1), Mac Robertson (1), Phil D’Amato (1), Randy Matthews (1) and Steve Asmussen (1).
Prior to coming to Oaklawn, Arrieta had never ridden a horse for Hollendorfer or Asmussen, both members of the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. Arrieta did forge a relationship with Robertson at Canterbury Park, and they teamed for an upset victory with Beach Flower ($41.20) in Friday’s allowance feature for older fillies and mares. Beach Flower represented their 12th career victory together.
“He does the weight,” Robertson said. “He’s won 600 races in three years. That says more than what anyone else says, right?”
Arrieta, a native of Venezuela, has ridden extensively the past few years in New Mexico, Arizona and Minnesota. He said moving to Arkansas wasn’t an easy decision, owing to his family traveling with him. Retired Hall of Fame jockey Ramon Dominguez, who is also from Venezuela, is among the people Arrieta said he leaned on for advice.
“He said it was a great opportunity,” Arrieta said. “Ramon’s a really smart guy. He always helps. I really like the outdoors here, the mountains. I’m really happy.”
Arrieta said he doesn’t know where he’ll ride after the Oaklawn meeting ends May 1, but he’s weighing a couple of options. He was leading rider at Canterbury in 2019 and second-leading rider there last year. The suburban Minneapolis track normally draws a handful of prominent Oaklawn figures.
“I’ve got to call Ramon,” Arrieta said with a laugh.
According to Equibase, racing’s official data gathering organization, Arrieta entered Sunday with 616 victories and $9,886,008 in purse earnings in his career. Arrieta ranked eighth nationally in victories (250) in 2019, also setting a career high in purse earnings ($4,033,210).
Arrieta recorded his first United States victory in 2015.
Don’t Worry, Run Happy
Champion Runhappy was represented by his first Oaklawn winner when Joyful Cadence ($6.40) broke her maiden by 8 ¾ lengths in Thursday’s seventh race for fillies and mares, 3 and up, under apprentice Joshua Morales. It was her second career start.
Joyful Cadence, 3, is from the first crop of Runhappy, an Eclipse Award winner (male sprinter) in 2015 for colorful owner James “Mattress Mack” McIngvale who now stands at historic Claiborne Farm in Kentucky.
According to a news release from Claiborne, Joyful Cadence was the 11th winner this year for Runhappy to lead the country’s second-crop sires. Runhappy got off to a pedestrian start at stud, known more in 2019 and 2020 for a seemingly nonstop marketing push that tied the horse’s name to stakes races, a race meet and six-figure bonuses for his progeny breaking their maidens in unrestricted races at a handful of major venues. Joyful Cadence is a half-sister to Grade 3 winner Country Grammer, who finished fifth in the $1 million Runhappy Travers Stakes (G1) for 3-year-olds last August at Saratoga.
“I had high hopes for her from the very beginning,” said John Ortiz, who trains Joyful Cadence for WSS Racing (William Simon). “I just thought patience with these Runhappys was going to be a key and that turned out to be correct. A lot of Runhappys that are now running as 3-year-olds, they had a good month. Again, everybody’s tracking them. I knew it was going to be an older-horse thing and we’re lucky to have one.”
Simon, a former Walmart executive who has a home in Rogers, Ark., purchased Joyful Cadence for $235,000 at the 2019 Keeneland September Yearling Sale. Ortiz said the filly made the short list of WSS’s bloodstock agent, Jared Hughes, adding “she was one of the most beautiful yearlings we saw at the sale.”
“She was just athletic from Day 1,” said Ortiz, who has trained for Simon for approximately four years. “That’s the biggest investment that we have made so far, in the hopes of finding that nice Grade 1 filly, or horse, period.”
Ortiz said he stopped on Joyful Cadence last summer to give her time to mature for a 3-year-old campaign. Joyful Cadence, in her career debut, finished seventh over a synthetic surface Jan. 15 at Turfway Park. Ortiz said he used the sprint for “education” and “fitness” purposes.
“I was not disappointed in that race at all,” Ortiz said. “That race, actually, showed me what I actually had. She wasn’t 100 percent fit to run that day, but she didn’t look like a loser. The track was very heavy on the rail. First time, going 6 ½, and on a dead rail, I think, took a lot out of her. Even then, she came back on her toes and I kind of got an idea what she had to do now and I think that’s when she put it together. We brought her to Oaklawn right away.”
Racing over a fast track Thursday, Joyful Cadence covered 6 furlongs in 1:09.95 to earn a 93 Equibase Speed rating. Ortiz said Joyful Cadence came out of the race in “great shape” and he’ll probably point for a conditioned allowance event and “see where that takes us.” Joyful Cadence, Ortiz said, is the only offspring of Runhappy he now trains.
“If anybody out there has one, send the Runhappys,” Ortiz said with a laugh.
Gray Attempt Returns
Multiple Oaklawn stakes winner Gray Attempt is scheduled to make his seasonal debut in Thursday’s eighth race, an allowance/optional claiming sprint for older horses.
Owned by Dwight Pruett of Texarkana, Ark., Gray Attempt will be making his first start for trainer John Ortiz in the 6-furlong race that could pass for a stakes event. Gray Attempt hasn’t started since finishing ninth in the $50,000 Good Lord Stakes July 26 at Ellis Park. Under the care of trainer Jinks Fires of Hot Springs, Gray Attempt won Oaklawn’s $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes and $125,000 Gazebo Stakes for 3-year-olds in 2019, the latter under Jon Court.
Ortiz said after receiving Gray Attempt last summer, the son of 5-year-old son Graydar was turned out and pointed for the 2021 Oaklawn meeting that began Jan. 22. Gray Attempt has lost his last eight starts.
“Super excited,” Ortiz said. “We gave him a break when he came over to us. We turned him out to a pasture and just gave him about 60 days, 90 days off. Came back on his toes. Worked a lot on getting him to manage his speed, instead of being just all out. I think he’s come along way. Jon Court’s been working him every week. He’s excited as ever to ride him. I couldn’t have a horse more prepared.”
Gray Attempt has seven published workouts since Jan. 10 at Oaklawn. His training scheduled was interrupted last month when Oaklawn was closed for 11 days (Feb. 12-22) because of severe winter weather.
“I don’t mind when horses have got to take a break like that,” Ortiz said. “I actually really enjoy it. I think the horses enjoy it as well. Like anybody, they can use seven days off once a year without losing any conditioning. I think it just helped him. He really got into his feed tub and just started eating a lot more and was just happier.”
Also entered are Grade 3 winner Strike Power for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen, Tough Love (Brian Williamson), Seven Nation Army (Ron Moquett), Nuclear Option (Ingrid Mason), The Sound (Brad Cox) and Hollis (Ortiz).
Seven Nation Army finished second, beaten a length, in the $150,000 King Cotton Stakes Feb. 6 at Oaklawn in his last start. The Sound, who cuts back to a sprint, has won 3 of 4 career starts for owner John Ed Anthony of Hot Springs. The colt’s only loss was a runner-up finish in his career debut to Idol, who returned to win Saturday’s $400,000 Santa Anita Handicap (G1).
The speedy Hollis exits a dead-heat victory in the $75,000 Stonerside Sprint Stakes Jan. 31 at Sam Houston. Hollis is nominated to the $200,000 Hot Springs Stakes March 13 at Oaklawn, but Ortiz said he plans to run the gelding Thursday.
“Again, he’s a fit horse that’s done a lot over the year for us,” Ortiz said. “And having Gray in that race, I’m excited to see what Gray is going to do coming off that layoff.”
Will’s Secret earned a preliminary Beyer Speed Figure of 82 for her three-quarter length victory in Saturday’s $300,000 Honeybee Stakes (G3) for 3-year-old fillies. The Honeybee is the final major local prep for the $600,000 Fantasy Stakes (G3) April 3 at Oaklawn. “That would be the plan, but we’ve got another nice filly, too, in Take Charge Lorin,” trainer Dallas Stewart said. “I really like her, too. I think we’ll probably go to the Fantasy and maybe the Ashland for the other filly. I don’t know. We’ll just have to see.” Stewart trains Will’s Secret and Take Charge Lorin, a Feb. 25 Oaklawn maiden special weights graduate, for breeder-owner Willis Horton of Marshall, Ark. The $400,000 Ashland (G1) is April 3 at Keeneland. The Honeybee victory, the third consecutive for Will’s Secret, vaulted her to No. 1 on the Kentucky Oaks leaderboard with 60 points, according to Churchill Downs. The Honeybee was the 694th career Oaklawn victory for jockey Jon Court. Court, 60, was Oaklawn’s leading rider in 2000. … Triple Crown nominee Ottothelegend earned a preliminary Beyer Speed Figure of 73 for his troubled two-length maiden victory in Saturday’s 10th race for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen. Ottothelegend, by Uncle Mo, is a half-brother to Grade 1 winner Twirling Candy. … Getridofwhatailesu recorded a 5-furlong bullet workout (1:00) over a fast track Sunday morning at Oaklawn for trainer Brad Cox in advance of the $350,000 Azeri Stakes (G2) for older fillies and mares March 13. Getridofwhatailesu won the $150,000 Pippin Stakes Jan. 23 at Oaklawn in her last start. The Azeri is the final major local prep for the $1 million Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) April 17 at Oaklawn.