Hollis sets new track record in upset win

December 12, 2021

It took a track record to topple a track record holder.

Hollis lowered Oaklawn’s 5 ½-furlong mark in Friday’s eighth race, rolling to a 4 ½-length victory under perennial local riding champion Ricardo Santana Jr. Racing over a fast track, Hollis stopped the clock in 1:02.17 to eclipse the previous record of 1:02.60 – a time converted from fifths of a second – set by Sis Pleasure Fager in a Feb. 15, 1984, allowance race for fillies and mares.

Friday’s race, a conditioned allowance for 3-year-olds and up, marked the return of 1-5 favorite Nashville, who finished second in his first start in almost a year after setting Keeneland’s 6-furlong track record on the Breeders’ Cup undercard in November 2020.

Nashville was no match for Hollis ($11.20), who tracked the front-runner from the start on the outside before seizing control in the upper stretch. Hollis, under 120 pounds, broke the record with a strong southerly breeze pushing temperatures into the mid-70s, unseasonably warm for early December. He received a preliminary Beyer Speed Figure of 109, which equals the fourth-highest figure in the country this year in races up to a mile on the main track, according to Daily Racing Form.

Hollis is a very special horse in our barn,” John Ortiz, the 6-year-old gelding’s trainer, said Friday night. “He’s got a personality like no other. We call him, ‘The Scrapper.’ We call him, ‘The Boxer.’ He wants to be in a fight. He’ll take the fight to his competition. That’s what my instructions were to Ricardo. When he’s comfortable and you see Nashville take a breather, that’s when you go up and join him. I know Ricardo was pumped. He said to me, ‘Don’t worry Johnny, we still had a lot left in the tank.’ Good news.”

Santana, an eight-time Oaklawn riding champion, had ridden Nashville in his previous three starts, including the $125,000 Perryville Stakes for 3-year-olds when set he Keeneland’s 6-furlong track record (1:07.89) after sailing through a :21.54 opening quarter and :43.87 half-mile. Friday’s splits were :21.81, :44.99 and :56.13 for 5 furlongs.

“It was pretty much what I thought would happen – seeing Nashville up in the front and us stalking him from the outside,” Ortiz said. “Just where we were, the fractions were perfect for Hollis. Sitting just off that pace was the best thing. To be honest with you, when you run Hollis, you’re always in for an exciting race. You see in his record, he’s dead-heated, he’s won by a nose, he’s lost by a nose and he’s missing a nostril. It’s always fun to win these races because he’s really never disappointed us. We knew we were sending a horse that was 300 percent ready.”

Ortiz trains Hollis for William Simon (WSS Racing) and Brent and Sharilyn Gasaway (4 G Racing). On behalf of the Arkansas owners, Ortiz claimed the son of 2007 Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense for $40,000 May 25, 2020, at Churchill Downs. Hollis is a half-brother to Grade 1-raced Lady Lilly, a daughter of 2016 Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist who finished fifth in the $200,000 Martha Washington Stakes for 3-year-old fillies last season at Oaklawn.

Hollis has proven to be a home-run claim, bankrolling $334,553 in 15 starts for his new connections and winning stakes races on dirt and turf. He was gelded shortly after being claimed. Hollis had previously sold for $200,000 and $120,000 at public auction.

“The pedigree was part of it,” Ortiz said of the claim. “I was the only one in on the horse. He was a pretty decent sprinter and we like sprinters. He was still intact and once we took the weight off, he really leaned out, literally, and became a much more focused horse to do what he likes to do, which is run really fast.”

Ortiz said Hollis will be considered for upcoming stakes races at Oaklawn, along with Mucho, another hard-knocking older stakes-winning sprinter he trains for Simon and the Gasaways (husband and wife). Owing to a Christmas gathering with family, Ortiz said he watched Friday’s race from his Lexington, Ky., home.

Hollis’ ninth victory in 22 career starts bumped his earnings to $420,333. He was also an allowance winner at 5 ½ furlongs last April at Oaklawn, covering the distance in 1:03.65 over a fast track.

Nashville was making his first start since being beaten for the first time in the $300,000 Malibu Stakes (G1) for 3-year-olds Dec. 26, 2020, at Santa Anita for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen and co-owners WinStar Farm and China Horse Club.

Nashville had a small ankle chip removed following the Malibu and suffered a minor physical setback last summer, said Elliott Walden, who is WinStar’s president/CEO and racing manager. Nashville was making his fifth career start Friday. He won his first three starts by a combined 24 ¾ front-running lengths.

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