Oaklawn Barn Notes: Ortiz Hoping to Celebrate with Big Wins Saturday

Oaklawn Barn Notes by Robert Yates

Contact: Jennifer Hoyt, jhoyt@oaklawn.com (501) 363-4305

Thursday, February 24, 2022

Photo credit: Coady Photography

Ortiz Hoping to Celebrate with Big Wins Saturday

Trainer John Ortiz turned 36 Thursday, but he would really prefer a late birthday present.

Ortiz is still seeking his elusive first career Oaklawn stakes victory and he’ll have two shots Saturday, sending out Ice Orchid in the $300,000 Honeybee (G3) for 3-year-old fillies and Barber Road in the $1 million Rebel (G2) for 3-year-olds. Both races are 1 1/16 miles.

“I think I know what I want, too, right?” Ortiz said Monday morning. “That would be a great birthday gift, I’m not going to lie. I don’t usually celebrate it. I’m not a big fan of parties on my birthday. But you know what? If ever I could get a good gift, I’ll take this one.”

Ortiz has four runner-up finishes in stakes races during the last two Oaklawn meetings, including two earlier this year with Barber Road in Kentucky Derby points events. Barber Road ran second to Dash Attack in the $250,000 Smarty Jones at 1 mile Jan. 1 and second to unbeaten Newgrange in the $750,000 Southwest (G3) at 1 1/16 miles Jan. 29.

Barber Road, who is owned by former Walmart executive William Simon, has collected eight Kentucky Derby qualifying points for those runner-up finishes. The Rebel will offer 85 points (50-20-10-5) to the top four finishers toward starting eligibility for the Kentucky Derby.

A former assistant under Kellyn Gorder, Ortiz went out on his own approximately 5 ½ years ago and is now poised to have his first Kentucky Derby starter in Barber Road, a gray son of multiple Oaklawn stakes winner Race Day.

“It’s a dream,” said Ortiz, the son of former jockey turned trainer/pinhooker Carlos Ortiz. “It’s why we wake up every morning. It’s why we do it. It’s why the owners want to get horses. It can come from a $1.5 million horse or a $15,000 weanling. This game is built on hopes and dreams. This is what we’re doing it for, and right now I’m in the dream and I’m just going along for the ride.”

A $15,000 Keeneland November Breeding Stock Sale graduate in 2019, Barber Road already has bankrolled $300,720 after finishing first or second in five of six lifetime starts. Barber Road also finished second, beaten a half-length by Tejano Twist, in the $200,000 Lively Shively Stakes at 6 ½ furlongs Nov. 27 at Churchill Downs to conclude his 2-year-old campaign.

Barber Road, Ortiz said, represents an evolving blueprint for Simon and his bloodstock agent, Jared Hughes. They are trying to develop promising 2-year-olds each year to reach the races. Simon, for example, purchased Joyful Cadence for $235,000 at the 2019 Keeneland September Yearling Sale and she became the first Oaklawn winner sired by champion Runhappy in a maiden special weights sprint last year. Joyful Cadence, later in the 2021 Oaklawn meeting for Simon and Ortiz, finished second in the $200,000 Purple Martin Stakes for 3-year-old filly sprinters.

“We wanted to start buying horses and see where our best angle of developing horses is going to be, whether we buy them as weanlings or yearlings or 2-year-olds in training,” Ortiz said. “He (Barber Road) was part of the first project. We liked the horse. My dad in Ocala, Ortiz Training Stables of Carlos Ortiz, he actually started out training the colt. He seemed to be a very nice 2-year-old. When he came into me, I told Bill that he was going to eventually be a two-turn horse because I knew Race Day when I was an assistant trainer for Kellyn Gorder. We had him in his early career. Both horses are very similar. When I saw Barber Road doing the same thing his father was doing, I figured I knew how easy it would be to train him as well. That was the fun part, kind of taking our time and letting him mature. I think letting them mature is the key to these Race Days.”

Race Day, a son of Tapit, did his best work as a 4-year-old in 2015 at Oaklawn, winning the $250,000 Razorback Handicap (G3) and $600,000 Oaklawn Handicap (G2) for trainer Todd Pletcher.

Barber Road began his career with a fourth-place finish at 5 furlongs last August at Colonial Downs before breaking his maiden for a $30,000 claiming tag at 1 1/16 miles Oct. 14 at Keeneland in his next start.

“We got away with one, but it wasn’t like I was trying to be smart about it, either,” John Ortiz said, referring to the claiming race. “This is a game of winning and race planning. And race placing is key to winning races. I’ve learned that through several trainers I’ve looked up to, Brad Cox, Steve Asmussen and so on.”

Barber Road was beaten 12 ¼ lengths by Tejano Twist in his 5-furlong debut, but Ortiz said he was encouraged by the performance.

“It looked like a very mediocre fourth, but what you don’t see on TV is the gallop out,” Ortiz said. “Not only did Barber Road gallop out past Tejano Twist, he went around the mile and a quarter racetrack all the way back around to the five-eighths (pole). If you watch the replay closely, when they got the cameras on Tejano Twist after he won, you can see Barber Road in the background galloping back already while Tejano Twist is still galloping out. I liked that and, obviously, I already had the idea that he was going to be a two-turn horse.”

Now, the mission is to win a stakes race around two turns. Barber Road was beaten two lengths by Dash Attack in the Smarty Jones and 1 ½ lengths by Newgrange in the Southwest after a wide trip and being farther back early than Ortiz expected.

Newgrange and Dash Attack are among 11 horses entered in the Rebel, which is the final major local prep for the $1.25 million Arkansas Derby (G1) at 1 1/8 miles April 2. Newgrange is the 9-5 program favorite, Barber Road the 9-2 second choice.

“I hope to see him a little bit more engaged early in the race,” Ortiz said. “I’m not saying I want him in the front, I want him to be a little bit more in contact with the field. That would make our trip a little better. I think he covered a lot more ground last time than Newgrange. I think if we’re able to play on the same course, on the same path, I think we’ll have a little fun down the stretch.”

Ortiz is Oaklawn’s fourth-leading trainer in 2021-2022 with 14 victories from 65 starts. His stable has flourished in high-end allowance races and already earned $1,214,090 in purses.

Somkin’ Joe

Jockeys represented by agent Joe Santos accounted for six victories on Monday’s nine-race program. All were in the first six races.

David Cabrera rode four winners to equal an Oaklawn personal best and push his total to 10 over the last three racing days. Cabrera’s victories Monday came in the first four races. He won the first race aboard favored Honorary Degree ($5.40) for trainer Karl Broberg, second race aboard Clancy’s Pistol ($8.20) for trainer Don Von Hemel of Hot Springs, third race aboard favored Fastest Spin ($3.80) for Broberg and the fourth aboard Life of Saturdays ($18.20) for trainer Wesley Hawley.

Fair Grounds-based Reylu Gutierrez won the fifth race aboard favored Greeley and Ben ($3) for Broberg. Apprentice Kylee Jordan then won the sixth race aboard Big Base ($144.20) for trainer Larry Frazee.

Cabrera’s recent flurry – he won four races last Saturday and two more Sunday – vaulted him into a second-place tie in the standings with 30 victories. Eight-time local riding champion Ricardo Santana Jr. has a meet-high 31 victories.

“The last three days were a lot of fun,” said Santos, the son of retired Hall of Fame jockey Jose Santos. “We felt a weekend like that has been possible for many weeks, so it was really nice to see it come into play. Hopefully, we have more weekends like that to come. As for Monday, that was definitely a lot of fun. We were fortunate enough to win a race at Fair Grounds as well with (Rene) Diaz, so all four of my riders recorded at least one win. Any time that happens, it feels good. My best satisfaction is seeing all my riders succeed and I hope I can continue to do the best I can for them all.”

Finish Lines

Eight-time Oaklawn champion Ricardo Santana Jr. ($2,030,087) became the first rider to surpass $2 million at the 2021-2022 meet with a victory in last Monday’s ninth race aboard Unbridled Twister ($8.40) for trainer Al Cates of Hot Springs. It was a meet-high 31st victory Santana. … Through Monday, Day 30 of the scheduled 65-day meeting, 328 claims had totaled $7,325,500. … Triple Crown nominee McLaren Vale didn’t make the trip from Southern California after becoming a “touch claustrophobic” loading on the plane Wednesday morning, Tom Ryan of SF Racing, which co-owns the Gun Runner colt, said in a Tweet late Wednesday afternoon. McLaren Vale was entered in an entry-level allowance Saturday, which would have been his two-turn debut. He was the 9-5 program favorite. McLaren Vale was to accompany unbeaten stablemate Newgrange (also co-owned by SF Racing) to Oaklawn for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert. Newgrange is the 9-5 program favorite for Saturday’s $1 million Rebel Stakes (G2) for 3-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles.