Roughly a week after kicking himself for a claim he made earlier in the meeting, trainer Jeff Hiles was celebrating his first career victory Friday morning at Oaklawn.
Hiles, the son of veteran trainer Rick Hiles, won Thursday's fourth race with Loran Holiday, a 5-year-old Argentine-bred mare he co-owns with Silver Tyme Stables (Mickey Ballew). Loran Holiday was the 11th career starter, and eighth at the meeting, for Hiles, 39, a former Kenny McPeek assistant who went out on his own late last year.
“My worry about winning my first race is over, but everything's still the same,” Hiles said. “I've been confident in her since I claimed her for $5,000 at Turfway. I had her with Kenny before and he sold her, and I followed her career with the goal to get her back because I think she's a lot better than what you saw yesterday.”
Racing for a $16,000 claiming price, Loran Holiday ($49.80) was a 2 ½-length winner of the 1 1/16-mile race under Channing Hill. The jockey also rode Loran Holiday to a maiden victory – her second lifetime start – in June 2017 at Churchill Downs. Hiles said Loran Holiday was among a group of horses McPeek bought in Argentina approximately three years ago.
“I got all of them and I trained them all and I had her at Payson Park,” Hiles said, referring to the south Florida facility. “We thought a lot of her. She was training with a filly named Daddys Lil Darling.”
While Daddys Lil Darling went on to become a millionaire and Grade 1 winner, Loran Holiday tumbled down the class ladder after winning in maiden special weights company. She was sold privately after finishing seventh for a $30,000 claiming price March 3, 2018, at Gulfstream Park.
Hiles said he tracked Loran Holiday throughout 2018 and thought about pulling the trigger when she ran for a $10,000 claiming price Oct. 2 at Indiana Grand. They were reunited following a $5,000 claim Dec. 5 at Turfway Park. Hiles was 0 for 3 last year, with his best finish a second by Fake Solution, racing for a $30,000 claiming tag, Dec. 12 at Turfway.
“I was frustrated because I expected to come out and start winning right off the bat, but I had to get these horses into my program,” Hiles said. “But I look back on our stats last year. Look, I was with Kenny last year and he's got tons of good horses. It took us seven starts to get our first win here. Once we got that first win, we won like five, back to back. This is a humbling game. This game is an equalizer. It doesn't matter how much money you've got and what you're doing. Look at the sheikhs. They've haven't won a Derby yet and look how much money they've put into it.”
Hiles came to Oaklawn with three horses after earlier claiming Say It Softly for $15,000 out of a maiden victory Nov. 11 at Churchill Downs and Fake Solution for $15,000 Nov. 16 at Churchill Downs. Now with six horses under his care, Hiles said he believes he can win a couple of more races before the meeting ends May 4. Loran Holiday was exiting a seventh-place finish in a March 2 race for $16,000 claimers.
“Getting that first one out of the way is the milestone,” Hiles said. “Now they can come. It's like a mental thing almost.”
Hiles said Loran Holiday, a daughter of the McPeek-trained Harlan's Holiday, may run in a starter race next month at Keeneland. The trainer will compete at Churchill Downs this summer.
A former Marine Corps sergeant, Hiles was a Primary Marksmanship Instructor to other Marines on firing the M16 rifle. He worked in construction and in the automobile and restaurant industries before returning to racing in the spring of 2015.
The Rick Hiles-trained Triple Kapalua was seventh in Thursday's fourth race.
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