Ortiz named on Finnick the Fierce for Saturday's Blue Grass

Ortiz named on Finnick the Fierce for Saturday's Blue Grass
Photo: Coady Photography

The connections of Finnick the Fierce hope a jockey change and a sizzling workout will make a winning combination in the $600,000 Blue Grass Stakes (G2) on Saturday at Keeneland.

Trainer Rey Hernandez, who owns the one-eyed fan favorite with Dr. Arnaldo Monge, will give a leg up to Jose Ortiz for the 1 1/8-mile Blue Grass. He replaces Martin Garcia, who had ridden the Dialed In gelding in his last three starts, producing a victory and a pair of third-place finishes.

“We love loyalty, but at the end of the day it’s a business. And we have to make the right business decision,” said Monge, a veterinarian with Hagyard Medical Equine Institute in Lexington.

With a significant number of prep races yet to be run, Finnick the Fierce ranks 18th on the Churchill Downs leaderboard with 25 points.

The Blue Grass looms as a critical start for him since it will award Kentucky Derby qualifying points to the top four finishers on a 100-40-20-10 basis.

The owners, recognizing that they are potentially faced with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, would rest easier if their horse can secure at least a piece of the Blue Grass.

“We are trying to make this count, this race,” Dr. Monge said. “Jose is a really, really good jockey. He gives us the best chance to win.”

Garcia had piloted the horse to its lone victory in five starts this season. The win came via disqualification in an April 4 allowance optional claiming race at Oaklawn Park.

Finnick the Fierce then finished third behind Nadal and King Guillermo in the saltier of two divisions of the May 2 Arkansas Derby. He washed out before finishing third in a June 13 optional claiming allowance at Churchill Downs in which likely Blue Grass starter Art Collector rolled gate to wire.

Ortiz won the Eclipse Award three years ago. He ranks among the elite riders on the rugged New York circuit.

Hernandez spoke highly of Garcia but said of the decision, “I’m pretty happy about it. I think Jose will get along really well with him. Hopefully, he can get the job done.”

The July 8 Indiana Derby also was considered, especially because Finnick the Fierce won his debut at Indiana Grand last June. But the Indiana Derby awarded qualifying points to the top four on a relatively meager 20-8-4-2 scale.

Hernandez, a former jockey, was aboard when Finnick the Fierce tore through four furlongs in 46.20 seconds on Saturday at Keeneland. Of the 90 horses to work that distance, none went faster.

Was it perhaps too fast?

“I’m not worried. He did it by himself. I didn’t ask at all,” Hernandez said. “He galloped out really nice.”

Finnick the Fierce, an April 22 foal, had his right eye removed due to a congenital cataract. He has gradually adjusted to his inability to see runners outside of him after initially straining to look for competition.

His 2-year-old campaign was highlighted by a second-place finish to Silver Prospector in the Kentucky Jockey Club over a sloppy, sealed track at Churchill Downs. He edged Tiz the Law, who endured a difficult trip and finished third for his lone defeat.

Dr. Monge looks forward to the stiff challenge the Blue Grass represents.
“Let’s see if we belong here. If it’s meant to be, it will happen,” he said. “If it’s not, we still have a horse for the long haul.”

2020 Blue Grass Stakes (G2)

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