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HOT SPRINGS, AR – Barber Road returned to Oaklawn bigger and stronger. The hope now, trainer John Ortiz said Monday afternoon, is his new look translates into a new result in upcoming months.
Following a grueling campaign that featured several near misses for a breakthrough victory earlier this year in Hot Springs, Barber Road is targeting the $200,000 Tinsel Stakes Dec. 17 at Oaklawn for his comeback, Ortiz said. The 1 1/8-mile Tinsel, for 3-year-olds and up, would mark the first start for Barber Road since finishing seventh in the Belmont Stakes – the final leg of the Triple Crown – June 11 at Belmont Park and likely his first test against older horses.
“He’s sitting on so many close calls at Oaklawn,” said Ortiz, who trains the 3-year-old gray son of multiple Oaklawn stakes winner Race Day for former Walmart executive William Simon’s WSS Racing. “We’ve got to get him a win over the track that he did so well over. We know he loves the track, so we’re just excited to go ahead and get started with him. All his training is on schedule. We’re basically working backwards from the 17th.”
Ortiz said Barber Road’s major local objective is the $1 million Oaklawn Handicap (G2) for older horses at 1 1/8 miles April 22. The Tinsel would serve as a bridge to major local Oaklawn Handicap preps like the $600,000 Razorback Handicap (G3) at 1 1/16 miles Feb. 18 and the $500,000 Essex Handicap (G3) at 1 1/16 miles March 18. Race Day, as a 4-year-old, captured the Razorback and Oaklawn Handicap in 2015.
Barber Road was among three horses to go through Oaklawn’s four-race Kentucky Derby points series in 2022, finishing second in the $250,000 Smarty Jones Stakes at 1 mile, second in the $750,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) at 1 1/16 miles, third in the $1 million Rebel Stakes (G2) at 1 1/16 miles and second in the $1.25 million Arkansas Derby (G1) at 1 1/8 miles.
After running sixth in the Kentucky Derby and competing in the 1 ½-mile Belmont, Barber Road was sent to WinStar Farm in Kentucky for a lengthy vacation, Ortiz said. Barber Road flourished physically during his break, Ortiz said, gaining approximately 200 pounds.
“We’ve always talked about how immature Barber Road has been,” Ortiz said. “Mentally and physically, we’ve always thought he needed a lot of maturing to do still to continue to play with those big dogs. So that’s why we decided to pull him out and let him grow. Obviously, he did grow. He is still in the midst of growing. He’s definitely got a lot more muscle. He grew wider. Lot more muscle tone throughout his entire body. He’s still growing taller. He’s still a little downhill. His hind end is still a little higher. I think he’s still got maybe another inch or 2 to grow. He has made a very big physical change from the summer, which is what I wanted to see. Excited to see how else he can improve.”
Barber Road resumed training around Labor Day at The Thoroughbred Center, also in central Kentucky, and returned to the work tab Oct. 9. Barber Road recorded four more published workouts at The Thoroughbred Center before shipping to Oaklawn earlier this month. In his first breeze this season at Oaklawn, Barber Road worked a half-mile in :49.20 Nov. 23.
“Everything’s actually 100 percent on time for Oaklawn, which was our main goal and intention from the beginning, once we pulled the plug on him this summer,” Ortiz said. “After the Belmont, my intention was to give him the rest of the year off and bring him back and campaign him extremely hard through Oaklawn and keep him going. Obviously, our main goal would be eventually to, hopefully, one day make it to the Breeders’ Cup.”
Barber Road, who is seeking his first career stakes victory, has a 2-4-1 record from 10 starts overall and earnings of $685,720. He also finished second in the $200,000 Lively Shively Stakes for 2-year-olds in November 2021 at Churchill Downs.
Nominations to the Tinsel close Friday. Millionaire multiple Grade 2 winner Lone Rock captured the inaugural running last year for 2020 Oaklawn training champion Robertino Diodoro.
Ortiz was Oaklawn’s co-fourth-leading trainer in 2021-2022 with 27 victories. He has 36 stalls this season at Oaklawn.
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