Since 2012 Jose Ortiz and his older brother, Irad Jr., have dominated the NYRA circuit. But Jose finally got one over on Irad this year, as he won the Angel Cordero Award at the recently-concluded Saratoga meet for most wins by a jockey a year after his brother won it in 2015. That accomplishment has been the highlight of a banner year for the Puerto Rican pilot, as he’s already notched a career-high 260 wins. But like most professional riders, Ortiz had to start from the bottom.
“When I came here I’d have very few opportunities,” Ortiz, 22, told NYRA.com in a recent interview. “I was a bug and I was a little green. I had to learn a lot. In 2012, most of the riding I did was breezing in the morning. Now I breeze in the morning to learn about a horse; every time you ride you try to learn something new. I think the experience has been the key.”
His agent, Jimmy Riccio, praised his client’s work ethic when interviewed by NYRA.
“Jose consistently works hard, critiques his own riding,” said Riccio. “He wants to be the best…you know he’s young and he’s got talent but we know improvement comes with experience. Every race is a lesson. He went from riding one or two horses in races and now he’s a workhorse, he’ll breeze five to six horses in the morning and ride seven to nine in races in the afternoon.”
The hard work has paid off handsomely, as Ortiz has won a staggering 15 graded stakes in 2016. His most recent graded stakes victory came, appropriately, in the Grade I Hopeful on closing day at Saratoga aboard Practical Joke.
“We could not be more pleased with how this [Saratoga] meet has gone,” Riccio told the Albany Times-Union. “We were blessed to ride a lot of good horses, and, of course, Jose just rode fantastically.”
Even though he’s an accomplished rider in his own right, Ortiz can’t escape questions about his elder sibling.
“I was happy for [Irad] last year that he could accomplish one of his dreams, and I’m happy that I can make my dream come true this year,” Jose told the Albany Times-Union. “He rides his horses, I ride mine and we help each other in whatever we can, but when we step on the track, it’s all about business.”
Irad, who finished second in the jockey standings at ‘The Spa’ this year, feels similarly.
“Riding against my brother, it’s a good feeling,” he told NYRA.com. “[But on the track] we’re jockeys; he rides his horse, I ride my horse. It’s a competition.”
Hopefully the racing public will have the pleasure of watching this sibling rivalry play out on the track for many years to come.
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