KD Countdown: Torres, Ortiz bros., Stitched

Cristian Torres was interviewed by Louis Rabaut, co-host of the “Issel & Louie Show on ESPttN Louisville. Grace Clark photo
torres Excited about chance to ride at KD

Video interview with Torres

FRANKLIN, Ky. (Thursday, Aug. 17, 2023) –– Jockey Cristian Torres, in his first year in Kentucky after running away with the Oaklawn Park title over the winter, is looking forward to riding over Kentucky Downs’ 1 5/16-mile, kidney-shaped course with its elevation changes and even a right-hand turn.

“It will be my first time at Kentucky Downs,” Torres said Tuesday at the Kentucky Downs Preview Day presented by the Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund and ESPN 680 and held at Louisville’s Blind Squirrel restaurant and sports bar. “A lot of people have told me good things about it.

“I like the grass because you don’t get too dirty,” the 26-year-old from Puerto Rico said with a laugh, continuing, “But I’m very excited to be there and ride at a track like Kentucky Downs. Everybody loves it. I know it’s going to be challenging, and I like challenges. So I’m ready for it.”

What advice has Torres gotten from other jockeys about riding the unique course?

“They told me not to move early, because it’s a long stretch,” he said. “You think it’s going to be done and you have a furlong to go.”

While missing some days to ride stakes out of state, Torres is in the thick of a mad dash to the wire for the Ellis Park riding title. Rafael Bejarano and Gerardo Corrales lead at 16 wins apiece, followed by Francisco Arrieta at 15 and Torres and Declan Cannon at 14 with six days remaining.

Torres won the $500,000 West Virginia Derby (G3) on Red Route One in one of his out-of-town sojourns. Owned by Kentucky Downs co-managing partner Ron Winchell, Red Route One won his debut at Kentucky Downs last fall before turning to dirt in pursuit of the 3-year-old spring classics. The Gun Runner colt is scheduled to return to the grass in Kentucky Downs’ $1 million, Grade 3 National Thoroughbred League Dueling Grounds Derby on Sept. 3. Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen confirmed via text that Torres would have the mount at the FanDuel Meet at Kentucky Downs.

The West Virginia Derby was Torres’ second time riding Red Route One. The first was a runner-up effort in Oaklawn’s Rebel (G2).

“He was way back, made a nice big run like he usually does,” Torres said. “He’s a really nice horse. I love the way he runs. I love that he gives 100-percent every time. I watched the race where he broke his maiden at Kentucky Downs. Now he’s going to be running over there again, back to the grass. But he has the experience.

“He moves like a turf horse, but he’s proved he can run on any surface. You just have to let him get his own pace the first part of the race, and he’ll pick it up later in the race. He knows what he has to do. I’m very grateful to Mr. Steve Asmussen and Ron Winchell for giving me the opportunity to ride him.”

Torres began riding in 2019 at Gulfstream Park before moving his tack to Oaklawn at the end of 2021. He added Remington Park and Lone Star Park to his circuit before the move to Churchill Downs and Kentucky this past spring. With 123 victories and more than $8.6 million in purse earnings, he’s already had his best season of his young career.

— Jennie Rees

Ortiz brothers to return but probably after Saratoga ends
Irad Ortiz after winning last year’s Grade 3 Kentucky Downs Ladies Sprint on Stonestreet Stables’ Campanelle for trainer Wesley Ward. Coady Photography

A late summer trip to Franklin, Ky., will be made by the Ortiz brothers

But it will likely be later rather than sooner.

Irad Ortiz Jr. and his brother, Jose, intend to make an appearance during the seven-day meet at Kentucky Downs. Most likely they won’t make the trip until after the summer meet at Saratoga Race Course ends on Labor Day.

That would mean the brothers would finish at Saratoga, missing the first three days at Kentucky Downs: Aug. 31, Sept. 2 and 3.

“The last couple of years, I have gone there after the (Saratoga) meet ends,” Irad Ortiz said. “I’m pretty sure I will be going again.”

With 14 days left in the season, Irad leads the jockey standings with 34 winners. Jose is in fourth place with 23 wins. Tyler Gaffalione, who has won the Kentucky Downs riding title two of the last three years, is currently in third place at Saratoga with 24 winners.

Last year, Irad Ortiz finished in fourth place in the Kentucky Downs standings with six wins, six seconds and six thirds in 39 starts, good for earnings of $1,283,853. Jose Ortiz was fifth with five wins from 24 starts. He also had one second and two thirds and $979,169 in earnings.

Irad Ortiz, 31, has won the Eclipse Award as the nation’s leading jockey four times, including last year. He has never won a Kentucky Downs riding title but only began adding the track to his schedule in 2020.

Jose Ortiz, 29, is a two-time riding champ at Kentucky Downs. He won it in 2019 and 2018 with 10 victories each year.

“A lot of good horses go there and you have to follow them,” Jose Ortiz said. “And the purses are huge. When I go there, I want to be leading rider, for sure. But it’s hard if you miss a day or two. It’s such a short meet that you can’t miss days.”

The brothers said they both enjoy the challenge of the Kentucky Downs course, which is the only flat track in North America conducting exclusively grass racing. Not that Kentucky Downs itself is flat.

“It’s very unique,” Jose Ortiz said. “You have to ride different. Everyone has a different technique with the hills going up and down, the long stretch and the kind of a bend at the eighth pole. You have to find out if the horses like it or not.”

“Very challenging,” Irad Ortiz said. “You really have to be aware of the track, but it’s also a lot of fun. “It’s the one place that is different than any other track in the country. I love it.”

— Tim Wilkin


G2 Wise Dan winner Stitched pointing to $2M Mint Millions

(Stitched winning the G 2 Wise Dan at Ellis Park under Flavien Prat. Coady Photography)

Among those delighted to see the $1 million Mint Million promoted to the $2 million Mint Millions are the people connected with Stitched.

The 4-year-old colt knows something about big numbers, having paid $94.50 to win in taking the Grade 2 Wise Dan held July 1 at Ellis Park. Stitched, with Flavien Prat up, wore down the pacesetting Get Smokin in the final strides to win by a neck. Flattering those two horses was Set Piece, who finished a troubled third as the favorite but went on to win last week’s Arlington Million (G1) at Colonial Downs.

With the purse hike, the Sept. 2 Mint Millions now has a $1 million base purse with another $1 million available to Kentucky-born and -sired horses made eligible to the Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund. That covers the vast majority of horses racing in the FanDuel Meet at Kentucky Downs and America, including the Kentucky-bred Stitched.

“That certainly didn’t hurt anybody’s feelings,” Travis Foley, assistant trainer to dad Greg Foley, said of the purse doubling. “I’m sure it will be a loaded race. But a horse coming off a great effort, and gave him plenty of time in between, I like our shot.”

Stitched is owned by breeder Nathan McCauley, Michael W. Olszewski and William J. Minton. The Mizzen Mast colt ran in last year’s Grade 2 Franklin-Simpson for 3-year-olds at 6 1/2 furlongs, finishing fifth behind the front-running 20-1 shot One Timer. That Kentucky-bred gelding earned a fees-paid spot in Kentucky Downs’ $1 million, Grade 2 Ainsworth Turf Sprint at six furlongs on Sept. 9 by virtue of winning the $200,000 Kentucky Downs Preview Turf Sprint at Ellis Park.

“He was undefeated going a mile into that race,” Travis Foley said of running Stitched in the Franklin-Simpson rather than the mile Gun Runner for 3-year-olds last year. “We thought Kentucky Downs plays long most of the time. We were thinking the cutback could work to his benefit. He came out of that race a little funky, so I think we had an excuse.”

Stitched was 4 for 4 at a mile on turf and 1-for-1 at 7 1/2 furlongs last year. Off seven months, he resumed racing in Keeneland’s 5 1/2-furlong Shakertown (G2) won by future Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint winner Caravel. Stitched was off the board in his next two starts, back at a mile, before winning the 1 1/16-mile Wise Dan. It was his first victory in which he did not go virtually wire to wire.

“He’s training really well,” Travis Foley said. “I think the pace got to him in a couple of races coming back. He showed a little different style in the Wise Dan, where he sat kind of mid-pack. And that was a mile and a sixteenth, so it kind of proved he could go longer. He was out-finishing everybody that day. It gives us hope that he can handle the mile down there. Nathan McCauley, the owner-breeder, wanted to have a fresh horse coming into that race. So we skipped the preview race and are taking a shot at the big one.”

KD Countdown: Torres, Ortiz bros., Stitched - Kentucky Downs