Trainer Gary “Red Dog” Hartlage Enjoying Success with 2-Year-Olds

Sept. 12, 2013

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From Churchill Downs Barn Notes:

Veteran trainer Gary “Red Dog” Hartlage has long been one of the most popular trainers at Oaklawn and Churchill Downs, where he enjoyed a particular good night last Saturday with his 2-year-olds. Later in the year, those horses will head to Hot Springs to begin preparing for the  the upcoming 2014 season.

Given his local esteem, a $15.80 win mutuel on a promising Hartlage-trained 2-year-old named Wry in the evening’s 11th race was a surprise. Anita Cauley’s homebred son of Distorted Humor out of a half-sister to Grade I winner On Fire Baby cruised by three lengths under Joe Johnson in his second career start.

Wry had finished fourth in a six-furlong race in his debut on Aug. 3 at Ellis Park. The chestnut colt stretched out to seven furlongs Saturday night and stalked the pace in fourth before he coasted to the lead in upper stretch and quickly drew clear. The winner covered seven furlongs in 1:24.08 over a fast track. 

For the legion of Hartlage’s local fans, that $15.80 win payout was a gift on a horse that won so impressively. Wry is also a colt that has Hartlage thinking of bigger conquests down the road.

“He was no cinch or anything like that, but he acts like he’s a good horse,” Hartlage said last Sunday morning. “He’s going to be okay. We’re thinking pretty big about him.”

Wry is out of High Heels, who won the 2007 Grade II Fantasy Stakes at Oaklawn before she ran third in the Kentucky Oaks (GI) to champion 3-year-old filly Rags to Riches, who would defeat future two-time Horse of the Year Curlin in her next start when she faced males in the Belmont Stakes (GI).

High Heels was produced by Cauley’s mare Ornate, who is the dam of On Fire Baby, winner this year’s Apple Blossom (GI) at Oaklawn Park and the 2011 Pocahontas (GII) and Golden Rod (GII) at Churchill Downs. She has won five of 11 career starts with earnings of $750,308 following a fourth-place run behind two-time champion Royal Delta in her most recent race in Saratoga’s Personal Ensign (GI). 

“It’s all there,” Hartlage said of Wry’s female side of the pedigree.  “Having Distorted Humor on top it didn’t hurt anything.”

Hartlage has no immediate plans for Wry, but is assessing his options after the colt’s emphatic victory over a group of well-regarded 2-year-old maidens.

“I’m sure we’ll try to stretch him out next time,” he said. “We’ll see where we go from there.

Hartlage had a busy night on Saturday as he saddled other 2-year-olds in the Iroquois and the Pocahontas, a Grade II race for 2-year-old fillies. Harlan’s Special finished fifth to Untapable in the Pocahontas, while Stonecrusher finished seventh of 10 behind the Romans duo in the Iroquois. Both are owned by Ten Grand Stable, a partnership that includes Hartlage’s daughter, Jennifer Riggs. 

“They all came back good,” Hartlage said. “I feel pretty good about most of my babies. Hopefully we’ll have a good fall and a real good 3-year-old year. We’re happy.”

Hartlage also is mulling over future plans for On Fire Baby, who challenged Royal Delta in the early going of the Personal Ensign before fading to fourth. She came out of her Saratoga race well and Hartlage has lost no faith in her talent and ability, but he’s puzzled by her most recent outing.

“She just really didn’t fire as good as I thought she would,” he said. “If she had fired, I thought the worst we would be was second or third. But she came out of the race good.”

Keeneland’s Juddmonte Spinster (GI), which will be run over the Lexington track’s synthetic Polytrack surface on Oct. 6, is one option Hartlage is considering. On Fire Baby ran fifth after breaking from the outside post in Keeneland’s 2011 Alcibiades (GI), the filly’s only career outing over synthetic footing.