Lots of Options for Gar Hole After Impressive Nodouble Win

Sunday, March 06, 2022

Lots of Options for Gar Hole After Impressive Nodouble Win

Gar Hole has options and one could be tackling open company for the first time in his next start following a powerful five-length victory in his stakes debut, the $150,000 Nodouble Breeders’ for Arkansas-bred sprinters, Saturday afternoon at Oaklawn.

A 4-year-old homebred for John Ed Anthony of Hot Springs, Gar Hole was assigned a preliminary Beyer Speed Figure of 91 – a career high – after becoming the first four-time winner at the 2021-2022 Oaklawn meeting that began Dec. 3. Ridden by Ricardo Santana Jr., heavily favored Gar Hole ($2.80) covered 6 furlongs over a fast track in a stakes-record 1:09.06. Comedero set the previous record, 1:09.17, in 2011. Gar Hole’s time also was the fastest of the 2021-2022 Oaklawn meeting.

“He’s down there this morning and you wouldn’t even know he ran,” John Gasper, Anthony’s racing manager, said during training hours Sunday. “It’s amazing. We always liked the horse. It’s just one of those things. Probably the fact that he got a little injured last year was probably the best thing that ever happened to him.”

After finishing eighth as the favorite in his January 2021 career debut at Oaklawn, Gar Hole didn’t run again for almost a year because of minor physical issues. Now armed with four consecutive blowout victories at the meet, the gelding could face open company next in the $500,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap (G3) for older horses April 23, trainer John Ortiz said. The Count Fleet is 6 furlongs.

“That was actually in the plans,” Ortiz said moments after the Nodouble. “I’m not afraid to put him in there right now. Obviously, he would have to run against horses like Mucho or Hollis, maybe even Top Gunner, so I’ve got a barn full of nice sprinting horses. I think he would probably want to compete with all of those.”

Gar Hole was making his stakes debut after using the same stalk-and-pounce tactics to win his previous three starts at the meet – all at 6 furlongs – by a combined 13 ¼ lengths. Gar Hole roared through his conditions in his return to racing, breaking his maiden by 3 ¼ lengths Dec. 4, capturing a first-level allowance by six lengths Jan. 15 and an allowance prep for the Nodouble by four lengths Feb. 13.

Gar Hole earned an 87 Beyer Speed Figure for his Feb. 13 victory, blitzing a field that included Tempt Fate and Bandit Point, 1-3, respectively, in last year’s Nodouble, and K J’s Nobility, the 2020 Nodouble winner. Bandit Point finished third behind Gar Hole in Saturday’s edition, beaten six lengths.

“It’s hard to do anything with that Gar Hole,” said Kelsi Harr, Bandit Point’s regular rider. “He looks like he’s a pretty nice horse, going 1:09 flat. I didn’t get to see how much Santana was riding him this time, but, yeah, he’s a pretty spectacular horse there.”

A son of Anthony’s Grade 3-placed Tekton, Gar Hole came out of his career debut off behind, Gasper said, and was sent to Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital in Kentucky to be evaluated by renowned equine orthopedic surgeon Larry Bramlage.

Gasper said a minor issue with a rear ankle was discovered and while not necessitating surgery, Gar Hole needed time. He also was gelded following his career debut because of an ascended testicle, Ortiz said.

“We had to get that squared away,” Ortiz said. “Gave him the summer off and he came back bigger, stronger and more mature. And obviously, he’s got one thing on his mind and that’s to win.”

Gar Hole’s victory, his fourth in five career starts, bumped his earnings to $272,274.

Oaklawn’s open stakes series for older sprinters continues with the $200,000 Whitmore (G3) at 6 furlongs March 19. Ortiz is scheduled to start Hollis, who set Oaklawn’s 5 ½-furlong track record (1:02.17) in a Dec. 10 allowance race. Ortiz also trains 2021-2022 Oaklawn allowance sprint winners Mucho and Top Gunner. The Whitmore is the final major local prep for the Count Fleet.

Ortiz said Gar Hole could be a candidate for the $200,000 Arkansas Breeders’ Championship for state-breds at 1 1/16 miles May 7, but added he prefers to keep the gelding sprinting and testing him against tougher competition.

“Open company is definitely a consideration,” Ortiz said. “He has to now. There’s another race, obviously, at the end of the meet that’s going to go two turns. I’m not sure if that’s what I want to do with him right now, but it is against Arky-breds. But when you change distances, it’s a new level. So, do we want to do that? I’m not sure. We’ll find out. I’ll talk to Mr. John Ed Anthony and we’ll take it from there.”

Gar Hole represented the first career Oaklawn stakes victory for Ortiz. It was the 272nd overall for Anthony, the winningest owner in Oaklawn history, and his 100th in Hot Springs under the Shortleaf Stable banner. Anthony won 172 races at Oaklawn (1972-1995) as Loblolly Acres or Stable. Shortleaf recorded its first Oaklawn victory in 1997.

Anthony named Gar Hole after a famous bar in the Marion Hotel in downtown Little Rock, Ark. The hotel was demolished in 1980 to make way for construction of the Excelsior Hotel and Statehouse Convention Center.

Finish Lines

Joel Rosario (sore back) was off his mounts Sunday after the 2021 Eclipse Award-winning jockey was involved in a spill Saturday at Gulfstream Park. … Walter De La Cruz (shoulder separation) will be out “a couple of weeks” after being unseated and injured shortly after the start of Friday’s sixth race, the jockey’s agent, Becky Esch, said in a text message Saturday afternoon … Leading rider Francisco Arrieta recorded a triple Saturday, winning the fifth race aboard favored One for Richie ($3.60) for trainer Cipriano Contreras, eighth race aboard favored Home Base ($6) for Contreras and the 10th race aboard favored Beguine ($5) for trainer Dan Peitz. … Beguine, who broke her maiden in her two-turn debut, became the second Oaklawn winner sired by 2017 Horse of the Year Gun Runner. She is a candidate for the $600,000 Fantasy Stakes (G3) for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles April 2. … Thomas Shelby is pointing for the $500,000 Essex Handicap (G3) for older horses at 1 1/16 miles March 19, trainer Robertino Diodoro said Sunday morning. Thomas Shelby finished second, beaten a neck by Plainsman, in the $600,000 Razorback Handicap (G3) at 1 1/16 miles Feb. 12. Plainsman and stablemate Warrior’s Charge also are pointing to the Essex for two-time reigning Eclipse Award-winning trainer Brad Cox. Nominations to the Essex closed Friday.