Record-Setting Irad Ortiz Jr. Ready for Championship Meet
Rider Set Single-Season Marks for Purse Earnings, Stakes Wins
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – With the 2022-2023 Championship Meet days away, jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. is back at Gulfstream Park looking for a strong finish to what has been an historic, record-breaking season.
Ortiz, 30, arrived in South Florida in mid-December in a familiar position – leading all jockeys in North America in both wins and purses earned, having topped the 300-win mark for an eighth straight year.
On his first day, Ortiz won the Wait a While on Gulfstream’s new turf course aboard Junipermarshmallow Dec. 10. It was his 78th stakes victory of 2022, two more than the previous single-season record of 76 set by late Hall of Famer Garrett Gomez in 2007. Ortiz picked up No. 79 with Viburnum in the $100,000 Via Borghese Dec. 17.
“It’s phenomenal. It’s been great. Thank God first for keeping me healthy and sound and in one piece to be able to keep doing it every day, keep trying,” Ortiz said. “My agent, Steve Rushing, does a great job and the trainers and owners give me great opportunities, a lot of good horses. They give me such good support and thank God everything worked out good. We’ve had an amazing year.”
Once considered an unapproachable mark, Ortiz began closing in on Gomez starting with three Breeders’ Cup wins at Keeneland Nov. 4 and 5 – the Juvenile (G1) on Forte, Sprint (G1) with Elite Power and Filly & Mare Sprint (G1) aboard Goodnight Olive – to push his career total to 17.
Ortiz swept the Nashua (G3) and Tempted Nov. 6 at Aqueduct as well as the Youngstown Oaks and Mahoning Distaff Nov. 21 at Mahoning Valley to set him up for the chance to pass Gomez, who passed away in 2016 at the age of 44.
“I didn’t even realize I was close until Breeders’ Cup week when my agent told me. I said, ‘Wow.’ We were only 10 behind so I said, ‘Let’s try for it. Let’s work and try to make it. It’s not easy, but let’s try.’ Everything worked out great,’” Ortiz said. “It was amazing.
“Garrett Gomez was someone we respect so much, a great rider,” he added. “It was hard. My agent kept me motivated.”
Less than a month earlier, thanks to his victories in Kentucky and New York, Ortiz surpassed his own North American record for single-season earnings. He set the bar with $34,109,019 in 2019 and raised it again this year with more than $36 million and counting.
“It’s been great. What can I say?” Ortiz said. “It’s something that’s very exciting and very special for me because I’ve been working at it since I started. I’ve been working since then right up to today. I wake up and go out there and try to do my thing and get on horses every single day.”
Ortiz began riding professionally in 2011 and is approaching 3,400 career victories, having reached 300 or more wins every year since 2015. He won the Eclipse Award as North America’s champion jockey three straight years from 2018 to 2020, and is a leading candidate to add a fourth statuette this season.
At Gulfstream, where he rode his first full winter in 2017-2018, Ortiz won three consecutive Championship Meet titles from 2018-2019 to 2020-2021, the latter with a track record 140 victories. He finished third last winter with 80 wins from just 297 mounts, but topped all riders with more than $5 million in purse earnings after sweeping the $3 million Pegasus World Cup (G1) with Life Is Good and $1 million Pegasus Turf (G1) with Colonel Liam.
Leading rider at Belmont Park’s spring-summer meet as well as Saratoga, Ortiz has set a personal high with 49 graded-stakes wins in 2022, including his second Belmont Stakes (G1) in June with Mo Donegal. Retired Hall of Famer Jerry Bailey holds the single season record with 55 graded victories.
“I just go out there and try to win every single race. That’s the way I work,” Ortiz said. We’ve been having a great year so let’s finish strong. You want to do it but it’s not that easy, like people think. You can have the favorite by far, but something happens at the break or any part of the race, you could get beat. No matter how good the horse is that you have, everything has to go the right way. It’s not easy.”
The 71-day Championship Meet opens Monday, Dec. 26 highlighted by a pair of $100,000 turf stakes – the Tropical Park Derby for 3-year-olds and Tropical Park Oaks for 3-year-old fillies – and runs through Sunday, April 2.
“It’s great to be back,” Ortiz said. “I feel great. I love the people, they give me such big support and I love everyone here. They’re happy when they see me and I respect everyone, so I’m here to do our thing and win the most races we can.”