Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Jockey Jose Ortiz to Ride at Oaklawn during Opening Weekend

New York-based Jose Ortiz, the country’s winningest jockey in 2016, is scheduled to ride the first four days of the 2017 Oaklawn meeting, his agent, Jimmy Riccio, said Friday afternoon.

Riccio said Ortiz is scheduled to ride horses for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen in the $125,000 Fifth Season Stakes for older horses Jan. 13 and $125,000 Pippin Stakes for older fillies and mares Jan. 14 and pilot Petrov for trainer Ron Moquett of Hot Springs in the $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes for 3-year-olds Jan. 16.

“We have a bunch of calls for Ron Moquett – he’s the guy who orchestrated the deal,” Riccio said. “Steve Asmussen was kind enough to give me a bunch as well. Hopefully, we’ll pick up some more as well.”

Ortiz’s first appearance in Hot Springs will coincide with four-time defending Oaklawn riding champion Ricardo Santana Jr. missing the first five days of the meeting because of suspensions stemming from the 2016 season. Santana rides extensively for Moquett and Asmussen.

Ortiz, 23, won 351 races last year to lead all North American-based riders and ranked third in purse earnings ($22,925,822).

“I needed somebody who could come in help and help me out the first four days,” Moquett said. “He’s going to be riding the favorites up there, regardless. I’ve got a few that other local riders are going to ride, but he’s primarily going to ride the ones that Santana would have.”

Ortiz has ridden for Moquett at Saratoga and Belmont, the trainer said.

Ortiz’s older brother, Irad, rode the Moquett-trained Whitmore to a second-place finish in the $900,000 Rebel Stakes (G2) and a third in the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) last year at Oaklawn.

Hart to Hart

Based on the last two years, trainer Chris Hartman shouldn’t have any trouble reaching an Oaklawn milestone when the 57-day season begins Jan. 13.

Hartman has 95 career victories in Hot Springs, including 34 when he captured his first Oaklawn training title in 2015 and 26 last year when he finished runner-up to seven-time champion Steve Asmussen.

Hartman’s 2017 barn, approximately 40 strong, will be headed by millionaire and multiple graded stakes winner Alsvid; multiple stakes winner Rivers Run Deep; hard-hitting allowance runner Wilbo; and Balandeen, a 3-year-old son of Bernardini who finished fifth in the $1 million Delta Jackpot Stakes (G3) Nov. 19 at Delta Downs in his last start.

“Steve’s got the numbers,” Hartman said during training hours Tuesday morning. “But we’re not conceding anything, that’s for sure. We didn’t think we would win the first title, so we’re blessed to have the one that we did get. We’re just looking to have a strong meet.”

Alsvid had his first local work this season, breezing 3 furlongs in :36.40 New Year’s Eve. The gelding, who has bankrolled $1,327,215 in his 46-race career, won the $300,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap (G3) in 2015 at Oaklawn and was runner-up in last year’s race.

Hartman said he believes the gelding can still be competitive against top competition, even as an 8-year-old.

“He’s doing very well for himself, that horse,” Hartman said.

Hartman said next-race plans are pending for Alsvid, runner-up in Oaklawn’s King Cotton Stakes the last four years.

Hartman said he also no specific plans for Balandeen, but the colt isn’t a candidate for the $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes Jan. 16. The colt is out of Mamma Kimbo, who, in her second career start, won Oaklawn’s $300,000 Fantasy Stakes (G2) in 2012.

Hartman said Wilbo and Rivers Run Deep, both allowance/optional claiming winners last year at Oaklawn, will be seen during the meet, but nothing is being targeted at the moment.

“I don’t really make plans for horses,” Hartman said. “I let the horses make plans for themselves.”

Hartman saddled his first Oaklawn winner in 2007 and has wintered in Hot Springs since 2013.

Making the grade

Oaklawn’s graded stakes races for the 2017 season:

GRADE I (2) $1 million Arkansas Derby, $600,000 Apple Blossom Handicap

GRADE II (3) $900,000 Rebel Stakes, $750,000 Oaklawn Handicap, $350,000 Azeri Stakes

GRADE III (6) $500,000 Southwest Stakes, $500,000 Razorback Handicap $400,000 Fantasy Stakes, $400,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap, $200,000 Honeybee Stakes, $150,000 Bayakoa Stakes

Grades are in

Eleven of Oaklawn’s stakes races during the 2017 meeting that begins Jan. 13 have received grades by The American Graded Stakes Committee.

All of the races retained their same grade as 2016, including the committee’s highest ranking – Grade I – for the $1 million Arkansas Derby April 15 and $600,000 Apple Blossom Handicap April 14.

Kickoff Banquet

New Oaklawn track announcer Vic Stauffer is the keynote speaker for the annual Oaklawn Kickoff Banquet Jan. 11 at the Wyndham Riverfront Little Rock in North Little Rock, Ark.

A reception and silent auction begins at 5:15 p.m. (Central), with dinner served at 6:45 p.m. Individual tickets are $50. A table of 10 sponsorship is $500.

Deadline to order a table or tickets is Friday. For additional information, contact the North Little Rock Chamber of Commerce at (501) 372-5959.

Finish Lines

The track was rated muddy for workouts Tuesday morning, with fog obscuring most of the course. … Multiple stakes winner Ivan Fallunovalot (minor illness) returned to the track Saturday morning for trainer Tom Howard of Hot Springs, who is pointing the gelding for the $125,000 King Cotton Stakes Feb. 4. Ivan Fallunovalot won the King Cotton the last two years. … Torrent, runner-up in the $100,000 Trapeze Stakes Dec. 11 at Remington Park, will make her 3-year-old debut in an allowance race, trainer Ron Moquett of Hot Springs said. Torrent is by 2010 champion older male Blame and out of Tidal Pool, winner of Oaklawn’s $100,000 Red Bud Stakes in 2011. Torrent races for her breeder (Westrock Stables LLC), which also campaigned Tidal Pool. … Oaklawn stakes winners Far Right and Gentlemen’s Bet, both returning from lengthy vacations, aren’t expected to run at the meeting, owner Harry Rosenblum said. The horses are now trained by Wayne Catalano after Rosenblum split with trainer Ron Moquett of Hot Springs last fall, although both still co-own Whitmore, third in the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) in 2016. … Scratch time during the 2017 meeting is 10:30 a.m. (Central) the day prior to race day.

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