John Ortiz is an emerging new face among thoroughbred trainers. He has spent years on the track working his way up to training his own stable, taking out his training license in 2016. He got his first win as a trainer in 2016 at Turfway Park with a filly named Red Charm. John’s unique approach involves combining modern training styles and old-school methods to achieve success. The 5 Minutes to Post team thanks John greatly for his time and for his dedication to the racing industry. We hope our readers enjoy this interview and we look forward to following John’s progress and seeing him in the winner’s circle!
[5MTP] Prior to your start in training what was your involvement in racing?
[JO] I have been working on the racetrack since I was around fifteen or sixteen years old. I started out walking hots for Bill Mott and worked up the ranks to a barn foreman. A few years after working for Bill Mott I worked as a barn foreman for Graham Motion, eventually becoming a traveling assistant in 2008. From there on I took on several roles in the barn for other trainers. I came to Lexington about five years ago and became Kellyn Gorder’s main assistant, helping with multiple strings and a stable with around sixty horses.
[5MTP] Who have been some of the biggest influences on your training style?
[JO] I like to look at everyone out on the track. Everyone trains differently and there are many different ways to train with the same results. A few people that I look at mostly for influence are Steve Asmussen, Wayne Catalano and Kellyn Gorder, each for a different reason. Steve has a very steady pace and training method, obviously with a lot of success now being a Hall of Famer. Catalano is very patient with horses, and from time to time will offer some advice on a certain horse. Kellyn Gorder is a really good horseman all around and has really put the need to tend to each horse individually into my training both on their backs and off.
[5MTP] What sets you apart from other trainers?
[JO] I hope something does! I like to take ideas from everyone and do my own thing with it. Right now we are playing a lot of the claiming game, where you take a horse and improve it off the last race. One thing I like to do is train my own horses right after a claim and shoot them right back if they are doing well. I’m very social and open with my owners. One difficult part of training can be communication.
[5MTP] How do you manage the expectations of a more hands-on owner?
[JO] Those are the kind of clients I have right now. I have picked up several people because they like that I ride my own horses and I have my hands on them every morning. I get to know them in every aspect and treat every horse individually. Most of my clients are wanting some of that one-on-one attention. Certain trainers can only be in one place at a time and that is when you rely on good assistant trainers.
[5MTP] How large is your current stable? How do you envision the growth of the stable?
[JO] Right now we are up to twenty-three horses. Every day we have calls from new clients. It helps winning at a high percentage on multiple tracks and staying in the money. I obviously hope to keep growing. I have helped operate several multi-barn operations and don’t fall underneath the pressure of having more than twenty horses. We have the ideal number to operate successfully, but I would love to have that multiple string. The magic number would be up to sixty horses where I can have twenty or so at different racetracks, kind of using the Steve Asmussen style. That’s why Steve is so successful, he has the numbers to move around. I think that is what you need in a barn that is growing and something that I am not afraid of. I managed three barns for Kellyn and drove between Lexington, Louisville and Paris every day.
[5MTP] Who are some of your go-to riders?
[JO] One of my go to riders is Channing Hill. Channing is a close personal friend. We have coached each other in life through many different levels. I like to see him do well and he likes to see me do well. When we team up together we have a lot of success. You can’t go wrong with a team like that. Channing has done wonderful for me and has won most of my races. I like to fit different horses to individual riders, for example a shorter jockey with a shorter horse or a speed rider with a speed horse. That is how I usually put my jockeys on. Channing is definitely my go to rider but if I can’t get him I like to pair my horses up with the right jockey. I like to see the rider and horse fit each other and the two get along. Everybody wants that rider that you can get that honest ride from. You want something that Leparoux and Maker have for example or Santana and Asmussen, someone that tries for the barn no matter what.
[5MTP] Do you look for horses at various sales or are most acquired through claim?
[JO] When I got started I claimed some horses for a client and we got the barn going. We claimed about eight horses in November to take down to Oaklawn and had a very successful meet. After that I continued to pick up a few more from claiming races and that is how I have acquired most of my horses. Since it is my first year I was able to look at the September Yearling Sale for my clients and I will also be at the Fasig-Tipton October sale. We picked up a couple in September. I like to consider myself a pretty good trainer with young stock.
[5MTP] Do you have any specific two year olds in training showing a lot of promise? Any specific philosophy when training juveniles?
[JO] Yes, oddly enough I always have two year old fillies and have always done well with them, even as an assistant. Right now I have six two year old fillies and a colt. I have a filly named Dulce Ride that has really popped out on the radar. She ran third at Indiana in her debut race. She will soon be making a start at Keeneland and is one to look out for! I love getting a two year old ready for two turn races and I’m not afraid to put the miles on them. I like doing two minute clips and breezing them long to make sure they are plenty fit to run long and aren’t surprised. I do what everyone else does and make sure they are fit and ready.
You can follow John on Twitter @johnnyortiz24 and with the hashtag #ortizracingstables. Ortiz Racing Stables can also be followed on Instagram @ortiz_racing_stable