Amid career year, Ortiz thinking of his Eastern Ky. in-laws
HENDERSON, Ky. (Thursday, Aug. 11, 2022) — John Ortiz is having a career year, his more than $3.5 million in purse earnings ranking No. 20 in America. His eight victories (out of 29 starts) matches Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen for the most this summer at Ellis Park. He is running romping debut-winner Justa Warrior in the $125,000 RUNHAPPY Ellis Park Debutante and Iowa Distaff runner-up Graysonsmacho Gal in the $125,000 Groupie Doll on the RUNHAPPY Meet at Ellis Park’s signature card Sunday.
Ortiz was discussing his good fortunate on a post-card perfect morning at Ellis Park, the backdrop being fluffy clouds against an azure-blue sky. He also noted the contrast to his wife Crystal’s brother and sister in law in Breathitt County, which is reeling from the historic flooding in Eastern Kentucky.
Jason and Kayla Parks, like so many, had their home completely flooded. The water doesn’t just go in and out. It stays there, creating further havoc.
“It’s sad to hear that kind of news. I was talking to Reylu the other day,” said Ortiz, referring to jockey Reylu Gutierrez. “I said, ‘We’ve got to stay humble. Here at Ellis, we’re living the best meet we’ve had. We’re winning races, doing well. We get to go home to our house and homes and apartments and our stuff. On the other side of the state, we have families in Eastern Kentucky - not just my family — who have lost everything they’ve worked so hard for. It’s a small community. To lose just a little bit could be a lot for them.”
The Parkses are not connected to the racetrack. But Ortiz said his in-laws have been overwhelmed by the kindness and generosity that people in racing have shown them, including contributing to a GoFundMe account that Crystal Ortiz set up.
“Anything helps,” John Ortiz said. “And I’ve donated for other charities as well for other people, not just my own in-laws. But everybody in Eastern Kentucky needs a little hand right now, donating water or whatever we can. My wife went there the other day to help them clean up. She said it took a long time just scraping buckets and buckets of mud out of their cabinets. That’s how high the water was.
“It’s just devastating. You’re going to get mold, and you ruin stuff, foundations. Just so much that can go wrong. It’s just a humbling time right now where you understand that when we’re doing well, we still can share that and help others.”
Meanwhile, business has to continue as usual at the track. Ortiz’s stable has morphed from depending in large part on claiming horses to being populated with 2-year-olds. Justa Warrior, owned by Stone Bridge Farm, galloped to a five-length romp on July 22 at 5 1/2 furlongs at Ellis Park under Gutierrez.
“The barn and I were very high on her," Ortiz said. "Physically looking at her, we always thought she was going to be a great horse. It was more like a workout for her. She just finished working this morning (Sunday) and she did the same thing: Sat three off and then goes by and opens up by two. She just likes passing. She likes the game. She enjoys what she’s doing."
Ortiz also has Boss Lady Bailey, who won by a head first time out at seven-eighths of a mile July 23. However, she’ll await another stakes.
He acknowledges that he’s thinking of the First Friday in May, when the Kentucky Oaks will be held at Churchill Downs.
“Every day you’re going to wake up and think about something like that when you have a nice impressive filly,” he said of Justa Warrior, who drew post 12 in an overflow field for the Ellis Park Debutante. “You look at her, physically she looks great. She also has attitude to go with it, and I love a filly with attitude. They’re just hungry. They’re here to play the game. They want to be the alpha out there.”
Graysonsmacho Gal hadn’t raced in nine months when she finished second by a head in the Iowa Distaff won by Jilted Bride, who also is running in the mile Groupie Doll. The 5-year-old Graysonsmacho Gal has raced at Ellis Park six times, winning three with a third. When she wins, she wins big. Her last three victories have been by 11 lengths, 17 (both at Ellis last summer) and 9 1/4 (at Keeneland’s 2020 fall meet.)
“She’s doing phenomenal,” Ortiz said. “She ran a tremendous first effort off the layup just to get beat a nose at the wire. Reylu knows her a little bit more now. She loves Ellis Park. I think that’s the horse for the course.”