Personal Best Meet Continues for Trainer John Ortiz

March 24, 2022

HOT SPRINGS, Ark.—Show him the money.

Trainer John Ortiz’s magical 2021-2022 Oaklawn meeting continued Sunday when favored Joyful Cadence captured a $107,000 allowance sprint for older female sprinters.

Joyful Cadence ($4.40) represented the 20th victory at the meeting for Ortiz, 36, a former assistant under Kellyn Gorder who started his first horse in 2016. Remarkably, 15 of Ortiz’s victories have come in races worth $100,000 or more, highlighted by the $150,000 Nodouble Breeders’ Stakes for Arkansas-bred sprinters March 5 with Gar Hole, who became the meet’s first four-time winner. Gar Hole races for his breeder, John Ed Anthony of Hot Springs, the winningest owner in Oaklawn history. The Nodouble marked the first career Oaklawn stakes victory for Ortiz after five runner-up finishes during the 2021 and 2021-2022 meetings.

Gar Hole winning The Nodouble Breeders’ Stakes on March 5, 2022. (Coady Photography)

“It’s very important, not just to me, but to Mr. John Ed Anthony,” Ortiz said. “His first Nodouble Stakes win; my first stakes win at Oaklawn. It means a lot more because I’m at Oaklawn. It’s like my home track right now. And to win with an Arky-bred for an Arky-based owner, it’s meant to be. And then walking out of the Nodouble barn to run and win the Nodouble, it’s like an omen. All the stars were perfectly aligned.”

Joyful Cadence, who, in 2021, became the first Oaklawn winner sired by champion Runhappy, helped swell Ortiz’s purse earnings at the meet to $1,776,106 through Sunday, Day 43 of the scheduled 66-day meeting. Ortiz ranks third in purse earnings, trailing only Eclipse Award winners Steve Asmussen ($2,153,994) and Brad Cox ($2,126,999), and fourth in victories. 

Despite starting only 90 horses, Ortiz already has blown past his previous single-season Oaklawn bests – 15 victories and $721,658 in purse earnings – set last year. In addition to the Nodouble, Ortiz runners have captured 14 six-figure allowance races and two $84,000 maiden special weights events. 

“I feel like I’ve been exactly where I’ve needed to be,” Ortiz said. “It’s just been perfect race timing.”

Ortiz’s barn also boasts Kentucky Derby prospect Barber Road, who is scheduled to make his next start in the $1.25 million Arkansas Derby (G1) April 2; Arkansas-bred standout The Mary Rose, who has whipped open company in two 1 1/16-mile allowance races for older fillies and mares at the meeting; and Hollis, who set Oaklawn’s 5 ½-furlong track record (1:02.17) in a Dec. 10 allowance race. 

Former Walmart executive William Simon owns Joyful Cadence and Barber Road. Joyful Cadence was runner-up in the $200,000 Purple Martin Stakes for 3-year-old filly sprinters last year at Oaklawn. Barber Road has run in Oaklawn’s first three Kentucky Derby points races, finishing second in the $250,000 Smarty Jones Stakes Jan. 1 and $750,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) Jan. 29 and third in the $1 million Rebel Stakes (G2) Feb. 26. Simon races Hollis in partnership with Arkansans Brent and Sharilyn Gasaway. The Mary Rose, a candidate for the $150,000 Natural State Breeders’ Stakes at 1 mile May 6, is a homebred for Anthony.

“I feel so comfortable,” Ortiz said. “I’m beyond blessed, first of all, but I feel so comfortable being in these races. I feel like I’m back in my element. When I was with Kellyn Gorder and we came down here with 10 horses, between 7-10 horses at a time, it was maiden special weight, allowances and stakes races and that’s exactly how Kellyn and I got rolling at Oaklawn. I feel like I’m back in my element when I was with Kellyn and I can show that I can compete and train at the same level as these top trainers.”

Gorder’s stable, roughly 60 horses, is split between Oaklawn and The Thoroughbred Center in Lexington, Ky.

River Rising

Caddo River, among Oaklawn’s leading 3-year-olds last year, snapped a six-race losing streak with a sharp 5 ¾-length allowance score at 1 1/16 miles last Friday. Ricardo Santana Jr. rode Caddo River ($6.40) for two-time reigning Eclipse Award-winning trainer Brad Cox and breeder/owner John Ed Anthony of Hot Springs.

Caddo River hadn’t won since a front-running 10 ¼-length romp in the $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes at 1 mile to open his 3-year-old campaign. Caddo River also ran in Oaklawn’s final two Kentucky Derby points races, finishing fifth in the $1 million Rebel Stakes (G2) at 1 1/16 miles and second in the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) at 1 1/8 miles.

Caddo River had been winless in three starts at the 2021-2022 Oaklawn meeting, although he was disqualified from a Dec. 19 allowance victory because of stretch interference. Like his Dec. 19 effort, Caddo River came from off the pace last Friday.

“He ran good,” Cox said Sunday morning. “He was going away at the end. He stepped up. It was, I guess, gosh, his fourth run of the winter. His first run was good and he got DQ’d. He’s been steady enough all winter. He’s one that seems to be getting better, so that’s what you look for.”

Cox said it’s unlikely Caddo River will target the $1 million Oaklawn Handicap (G2) at 1 1/8 miles April 23, but the Hard Spun colt could run again before the meeting ends May 8.

“Possible,” Cox said. “Don’t know where. Came out of good, so we’ll see. Hopefully, we’ll get another run in him before the end of the meet.”

Cox already has two other candidates for the Oaklawn Handicap in millionaire multiple Grade 3 winners Plainsman and Warrior’s Charge, who finished second and fifth, respectively, in last Saturday’s $500,000 Essex Handicap (G3) for older horses at 1 1/16 miles.

“Obviously, locally owned horses,” Cox said. “I think the Oaklawn Handicap is in play. They’ll both be nominated.”

Anthony also owns Plainsman. Warrior’s Charge is co-owned by Ten Strike Racing (founding partners Marshall Gramm and Arkansas native Clay Sanders), which considers Oaklawn its home track. 

Como Square, Caddo River’s younger half-sister, is entered in Saturday’s $150,000 Purple Martin Stakes for 3-year-old filly sprinters. Cox also trains Como Square for Anthony, Oaklawn’s all-time winningest owner. Caddo River marked Anthony’s meet-best 13th victory in 2021-2022 and 273rd overall. Anthony’s Shortleaf Stable also tops all owners in purse earnings at the meeting ($1,400,607).

Saez Returning to Oaklawn

Gabriel Saez is scheduled ride April 1 through the end of the meeting, May 8, the jockey’s agent, Liz Morris, said in a text message Monday afternoon.

Saez, who has 51 career Oaklawn victories, including six stakes, resumed riding March 9 at Fair Grounds – his normal winter base – after missing approximately seven months with a broken leg. Fair Grounds’ 2021-2022 meeting ends Sunday.

Then closely aligned with trainer Larry Jones, Saez rode eight winners in his 2007 Oaklawn debut and two more in 2008. He rode 31 winners at the 2011 meeting.

Saez, 34, has three stakes victories at the last two Oaklawn meetings, all for trainer Bret Calhoun, who is now a major client. Saez won the $600,000 Oaklawn Handicap (G2) for older horses aboard By My Standards and the $300,000 Oaklawn Stakes for 3-year-olds aboard Mr. Big News in 2020. Saez won the $400,000 Oaklawn Mile for older horses aboard By My Standards in 2021.

Morris said Saez will return to the Kentucky circuit following the Oaklawn meeting.

Finish Lines

Chasing Time recorded a 5-furlong bullet workout (1:00) over a fast track Monday morning for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen in advance of the $1.25 million Arkansas Derby (G1) at 1 1/8 miles April 2. … Millionaire multiple Grade 1 winner Shedaresthedevil is under consideration for the $1 million Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) April 23 and the $750,000 La Troienne Stakes (G1) May 6 at Churchill Downs, trainer Brad Cox said Sunday morning. Both races are 1 1/16 miles. Shedaresthedevil finished third in the final major local Apple Blossom prep, the $350,000 Azeri Stakes (G2) at 1 1/16 miles March 12. She won last year’s La Troienne after capturing the Azeri. … Favored Molto Vivace ($4.40) represented the 650th career Oaklawn victory for jockey Ricardo Santana Jr. in Sunday’s fifth race. Santana is the eighth-winningest rider in Oaklawn history and an eight-time local riding champion.

Oaklawn Barn Notes by Robert Yates

Photo: Trainer John Ortiz. (Coady Photography)

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