Ortiz’s Stellar Meet Continues

Trainer John A. Ortiz with Paddock Host, Nancy Holthus

Trainer John Ortiz continues to push all the right buttons at the 2021-2022 Oaklawn meeting.

After considering Top Gunner for the $500,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap (G3) April 16, Ortiz chose the path of least resistance and ran the 5-year-old Into Mischief gelding in an allowance race a day earlier. Top Gunner rewarded Ortiz and his Little Rock, Ark., owners Brent and Sharilyn Gasaway (4 G Racing) with a neck victory in the $107,000 race.

“He was the last hope I had to put in there,” Ortiz said, referring to the Count Fleet. “But when this race came up, I wanted to go for a win because I want a confident horse. I wanted him to leave here with a win, leaving Oaklawn and going to Churchill. I wanted a confident horse going to Churchill.”

Top Gunner represented the 24th victory of the 2021-2022 Oaklawn meeting for Ortiz and a staggering 17th with a $100,000-plus purse. Three other one-time Count Fleet prospects, Gar Hole, Hollis and Mucho, also recorded victories in six-figure allowance and/or stakes races during the 2021-2022 meeting that began Dec. 3.

Gar Hole became the meet’s first four-time winner in the $150,000 Nodouble Breeders’ Stakes for Arkansas-bred sprinters March 5. The Nodouble marked Ortiz’s first career Oaklawn stakes victory.

Hollis set Oaklawn’s 5 ½-furlong track record (1:02.17) in a Dec. 10 allowance victory. Mucho was a Dec. 18 allowance winner sprinting before stretching out to finish second, beaten a neck, in the $150,000 Fifth Season Stakes for older horses at 1 mile Jan. 15.

Gar Hole, Hollis and Mucho are all receiving breaks, Ortiz said.

Top Gunner was exiting a runner-up finish in a March 25 allowance race that spawned Count Fleet starters Mojo Man and Chipofftheoldblock. The Count Fleet also attracted champion Jackie’s Warrior, who won the 6-furlong race in his 4-year-old debut.

Heavily favored in the April 15 allowance race, Top Gunner ($3.80) opened a clear lead turning for home and held on by a neck under Tiago Pereira. The gelding ran 6 furlongs in a sharp 1:09.49 over a fast track.

“I told Tiago to make sure that he put his head in front this time before the quarter pole because it looks like he’s just always hanging with these other horses,” Ortiz said. “I wanted him to make sure he got the jump on them. I told him that once he puts a head front, just take advantage and run with it. And he did. The horse got brave once he got in front.”

On behalf of 4 G, Ortiz claimed Top Gunner for $30,000 out of a March 27, 2021, maiden victory at Oaklawn. The gelding has captured three allowance races for Ortiz and 4 G and bankrolled $247,682 in a 14-race career. Top Gunner opened the 2021-2022 Oaklawn meeting with a victory in a $101,000 allowance sprint Dec. 5.

Ortiz said Top Gunner could resurface on the Preakness undercard May 21 at Pimlico, possibly in the $150,000 Maryland Sprint Stakes (G3) at 6 furlongs.

Ortiz recorded his 25th meet victory Friday with Greathouse ($6) for owner John Ed Anthony of Hot Springs. The victory pushed Ortiz’s purse earnings at the meet to $2,445,556.

Ortiz’s previous single-season Oaklawn bests, 15 victories and $721,658 in purse earnings, were recorded at the 2021 meeting. Ortiz started his first horse at Oaklawn in 2017.

Ortiz is scheduled to send out his first career Kentucky Derby starter, Arkansas Derby runner-up Barber Road, May 7 at Churchill Downs.

Anthony Moves Closer to Record

John Ed Anthony’s Shortleaf Stable collected $54,000 in purse earnings Friday to move closer to setting a single-season Oaklawn record for owners.

All the purse money was generated by Anthony’s lone entrant Friday, Greatheart, who won the fourth race, a $90,000 maiden special weights event for 3-year-olds and up at 1 mile. Ry Eikleberry rode Greatheart ($6) for trainer John Ortiz.

Shortleaf, boosted by Greatheart’s victory, entered the final eight days of the scheduled 66-day meeting with $1,710,587 in purse earnings, according to Equibase, racing’s official data gathering organization. M and M Racing (Mike and Mickala Sisk) set Oaklawn’s single-season record for purse earnings for an owner ($1,782,351) in 2019.

Anthony had only one other horse entered this weekend – Plainsman for trainer Brad Cox in Saturday’s $1 million Oaklawn Handicap (G2) at 1 1/8 miles. Anthony would supplant M and M with a top three finish by Plainsman, a millionaire multiple Grade 3 winner.

Anthony entered Saturday with a meet-best victories 16 in 2021-2022 and an Oaklawn record 276 overall. Anthony’s first victory at Oaklawn was Feb. 16, 1972.

Finish Lines

After winning four races April 16, including three for trainer Brad Cox, eight-time Oaklawn riding champion Ricardo Santana Jr. was blanked Friday. Santana entered Saturday trailing the idle David Cabrera 62-54 in the standings with eight days remaining in the meeting. … Cabrera (head, neck and upper back injuries) remains out indefinitely following an April 8 spill, his agent, Joe Santos, said in a text message Friday afternoon. “He is healing up,” Santos said. “Just still waiting to get cleared from the concussion. Whenever that happens, he is good to return.” … Santos also represents Ry Eikleberry, who recorded his first career Oaklawn double Friday. Eikleberry won the fourth race aboard Greatheart ($6) for trainer John Ortiz and the sixth race aboard Sapphire Royalty ($11.80) for trainer Shea Stuart. Eikleberry joined the Oaklawn colony earlier this month after Sam Houston closed. He will move his tack next week to Lone Star. … Stuart also won Friday’s seventh race with favored Malintent ($8) to record his second career Oaklawn double. … Malintent represented the 17th victory for Chel-c Bailey, breaking a tie with John Hiraldo for the meet’s leading apprentice jockey. Hiraldo became a journeyman last month. … Newcomer Isaac Castillo recorded a riding double Friday, winning the first race aboard favored Flashy Biz ($5.40) for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen and the third race aboard Catania ($10.40) for trainer Scott Becker. … Flashy Biz was the 804th career Oaklawn winner for Asmussen, who is chasing the late Bob Holthus’ record 867. … Win-machine Greeley and Ben (12-1-1 in his last 14 starts) is entered in Sunday’s third race, an allowance/optional claiming sprint, for owner/trainer Karl Broberg. Greeley and Ben, who exits a third in the $200,000 Whitmore Stakes (G3) for older horses at 6 furlongs March 19, is entered for a $62,500 claiming price. The 8-5 program favorite removes blinkers Sunday.