Johnny Ortiz has three horses entered for Friday's opening-day card at Oaklawn, with one carrying the hopes of the trainer's family.
Unbeaten Miss Ximena is scheduled to make her 2019 debut in the seventh race, a first-level allowance/optional claimer for 3-year-old fillies at 5 ½ furlongs.
Ortiz's father, Carlos, broke and owns the Kentucky-bred daughter of Flat Out. She is named after Johnny Ortiz's younger sister, Karla Ximena Ortiz, who has scleroderma, a rare autoimmune disease that is characterized by hardening and tightening of the skin and connective tissues, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Johnny Ortiz said Miss Ximena has helped cover her sister's medical bills (the filly has earned $24,840) and raise awareness of the incurable disorder, which, according to the Mayo Clinic, affects women more often than men and most commonly occurs between the ages of 30 and 50.
“My dad named her after we realized … everything came to a point where we said that it was about my sister,” Ortiz said. “The filly loves my sister. She would chase my dad out of the stall, but she would let my little sister walk up to her.”
Miss Ximena (pronounced “He-may-na”) won her Nov. 3 career debut at Indiana Grand, then cleared her first allowance condition Dec. 6 at Turfway Park in her last start. Ortiz said his sister, 27, attended the race at Indiana Grand, but her condition kept her from traveling from her Florida home to Turfway Park in northern Kentucky.
“The cold weather makes her hands hurt,” Ortiz said. “It slows her immune system down a lot, so we try to keep her out of the cold weather.”
Johnny Ortiz said Miss Ximena was originally purchased so his father, a retired jockey, could pinhook the filly at an OBS April sale of 2-year-olds. She had sold for $9,500 at the 2017 Keeneland September Yearling Sale.
“I saw her come up to me and just loved everything about her – her style, her attitude – and so I just bought her out of the back ring,” Ortiz said. “She caught my eye just as I was about to walk out.”
Ortiz said his family decided to keep the filly after she was withdrawn from the OBS sale because of an injury. The filly, now named Miss Ximena, quickly bonded with her namesake, Ortiz said.
“I've never seen my sister ever take a liking to horses as much as she did with this filly,” Ortiz said. “It helped my sister's spirit. She felt more able. She had a much better attitude about life.”
A Central Florida graduate, Karla Ortiz is heavily involved in videography and Miss Ximena's biggest fan, Johnny Ortiz said.
“My dad owns her, but it's for her,” Ortiz said. “It's her horse.”
Probable post time for Friday's seventh race at Oaklawn is 3:24 p.m. (Central).
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