HOT SPRINGS, Ark. — Saturday was huge day for John Ortiz, and countless others that were at Oaklawn.
"This is a game built on hopes and dreams, and right now I'm living the dream," Ortiz, an Oaklawn trainer said. "The end game is to be in the Kentucky Derby, but for right now we're just going along for the ride. I'm enjoying it."
This is no ordinary race for him though – it's the Rebel Stakes.
With a purse of $1,000,000 and a chance to be in the Kentucky Derby on the line, this one means a lot for the racers.
"Hopefully today we get both ends of the deal here, and get it done," Ortiz said.
It's also a huge day for Oaklawn, and by proxy, Hot Springs. For those who have been at the park for years, they're well aware of just how important today's race was.
"The stars of the sport, it's a big deal for them to come to Hot Springs. This is the race that really puts them in a very solid spot. This race would more than likely secure a horse in that spot in the starting gate for the Kentucky Derby," Nancy Holthus, Paddock Analyst for Oaklawn, said.
These races have continued to go up in both recognition and payout. That brings even bigger names, and in turn even more people.
"We do raise the purses, and it's an aspiration for those bigger names and those bigger horses to come compete," Holthus said. "We say that the road to the Kentucky Derby and the Triple Crown comes right here. It starts right here at Oaklawn."
Holthus isn't the only one who understands that – Ortiz does too. He's been at Oaklawn for almost a decade now, but there's other aspects that keep him here.
"The racing scene here is fantastic. There's so much to do outside of the racetrack. You go outside, you got the lakes, there's plenty of natural beauty here. I love it," he said
And while Ortiz spent Saturday rooting for his horse, Barber Road, in the Rebel Stakes, there's another piece to this.
He loves seeing the city he's worked in for near a decade grow.
"It's a big deal to have these kinds of races, to be part of these races myself. It just puts you on the map, you're recognized," Ortiz said. "We're making history, that's what we're here for. We're making history."
Saturday's race came along with some surprises. Un Ojo, a 75-1 longshot, won the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn on Saturday. Ortiz's Barber Road placed third.