HENDERSON, KY – Justa Warrior had already made one big statement on behalf of her barn during Ellis Park’s centennial meet. On Aug. 14, the daughter of Justify doubled down on that initial assertion when she struck the lead in midstretch and kicked on in the final sixteenth to annex the $125,000 Runhappy Ellis Park Debutante Stakes and remain perfect in two career starts.
Trainer John Ortiz is already enjoying a career best season with more than $3.6 million in earnings so far in 2022, success that doesn’t figure to slow down anytime soon given the way his juveniles have been performing. In her debut at Ellis Park on July 22, Justa Warrior showed she was one such youngster from Ortiz’s barn to keep an eye on as she galloped to a five-length victory going 5 ½ furlongs over the main track.
Jockey Reylu Gutierrez was in the irons that day and, for as strong an impression as his mount made on him that afternoon, he was beaming that much brighter in the winner’s circle following the bay filly’s first stakes try. Sent off as the 5-2 betting favorite, Justa Warrior rated kindly for her pilot in fourth as Mor Lively struck the opening quarter-mile in :22.39 and began advancing on the outside as Gutierrez let the reins out following a half in :45.71.
“I’m very happy for the owners, her pedigree certainly kicked in today,” Gutierrez said. “Johnny (Ortiz) did his job, he’s the hottest trainer in America right now and he’s the best 2-year-old trainer in America right now. I hope all the owners are watching Johnny, this horse showed it today. I think she kind of mentally turned off today until she felt them coming again and the was like ‘Oh I have to run’. She turned it on again late and galloped out good.”
After Justa Warrior ran by Holiday Decision to her inside to take over the lead in the lane, Ortiz kept his partner to task in the waning moments as Pachuca came with a late surge, covering the seven-furlong distance in 1:25.89 over a track rated fast.
“It feels great to win a stakes race at Ellis, especially with the 2-year-olds,” Ortiz said. “To have a daughter of Justify in the barn right now is a gift. She showed what she’s capable of here. We train her hard in the mornings and she takes dirt, she showed she can pass horses. Today I think she got a little lost when she was by herself, but she finished the job.”
Pachuca held for second over Tap’er Light in third with pacesetter Mor Lively fading to fourth.
Owned by Stone Bridge Farm and bred in Kentucky by Triemore Stud out of the Bernardini mare A Z Warrior, Justa Warrior improved her earnings to $108,660.
Ellis Park Press Release
Photo: Justa Warrior (Coady Photography)