The path to the top of the horse racing world is normally a long and arduous one, but for Irad Ortiz Jr, that was not the case. In 2011, his first year as a rider in the United States, Ortiz Jr. won 151 races. The native Puerto Rican showed that 2011 was no fluke when he won another 152 races in 2012. Most of those triumphs came at the demanding NYRA circuit (Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga). Now he’s winning upwards of 200 races a year and reached a personal-best 300 wins in 2015, all while racing at the highest level of the game at just 24-years-old.
“He has a plan,” preeminent turf trainer Chad Brown said of his ‘go-to guy’ when talking to the Times-Union last year. “He has a great memory. He takes advantage of riding horses back. He takes advantage of knowing the horses and he’s learned something about them the first time.”
Brown and Ortiz Jr. teamed up to score with Lady Eli in the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf, Ortiz Jr’s first score in the thoroughbred racing championship series. Ortiz Jr. also piloted Brown trainee Stephanie’s Kitten to victory in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf in 2015. And while he’s developed a reputation for being a superior grass rider, Ortiz Jr. believes he is not a specialist.
“They say I ride good on the grass, but I just feel like I just do my job and try to do the best for my horse, both grass or dirt,” Ortiz Jr. told the Times Union. “I think you have to be a little more patient and save more ground [on grass]. On dirt, you can go around some horses a little early.”
Ortiz Jr. used every bit of his ground-saving ability when he got Creator home for his first Triple Crown series victory in the 2016 Belmont Stakes, beating out runner-up Destin by a nose.
“I thought Irad gave [Creator] a perfect trip,” trainer Steve Asmussen told reporters after the race. “I thought he saved yards and won by inches. He made the difference.”
Chad Brown believes the future is bright for the talented young rider.
“If he continues to learn and develop as he has so far, he’s going to have an outstanding career, for sure.”
Follow me on Twitter: @itsgood2beking