Ortiz, Jr. has a long way to go if he wants to emulate famous Puerto Rican
jockeys Eddie Belmonte, Angel Cordero, Jr., and John Velazquez, but winning 70
races from 630 mounts on The New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA) circuit
in 2011 was a pretty good start.
Originally from Trujillo Alto in Puerto Rico,
Ortiz is a graduate of that country’s Escuela Vocacional Hípica, a school
for prospective jockeys. His grandfather, also named Irad Ortiz, was a jockey,
and so is his uncle, Ivan Ortiz.
Irad Ortiz, Jr. began his riding career at Hipódromo Camarero on New
Year’s Day, 2011, and rode there until June 19, winning 76 races from 357
mounts, good for a 28.3 winning percentage and earnings of $453,845.
Pito Rosa, a NYRA peace officer who works in the jockeys’ room at
Aqueduct Racetrack, Belmont Park, and Saratoga Race Course, took notice of
Ortiz’s success in Puerto Rico and asked
New York-based jockey agent Tony Micallef if he’d be interested in
carrying Ortiz’s book.
“I looked at the tapes, and my first impression was he
didn’t look like a bug boy,” said Micallef.
In June, Ortiz was off to New York to
follow in the footsteps of his idol, Cordero, who was inducted into the Hall of
Fame in 1988 and won 7,057 races, including many of New York’s biggest events.
“I wanted to ride against the best jockeys,” said Ortiz of
his decision to come to New York.
“I learn a lot by being able to ride with jockeys like Ramon [Dominguez]
and Cornelio [Velasquez].”
In three full meets on the NYRA circuit, Ortiz tied for 12th
at Saratoga Race Course with 11 wins, tied for sixth at Belmont Park
in the fall with 21 wins, and tied for fourth at Aqueduct Racetrack in the fall
with 11 wins. Through Thursday, Ortiz is fourth in the inner-track jockey
standings with 35 victories from 164 mounts.
Ortiz’s ascent has not gone unnoticed by horsemen.
“He is very talented,” said Art Magnuson, assistant to
trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. “I think he handles himself well. He carries
himself well. I like the way he listens. I think Irad is learning every day and
it’s really fun to watch. He is one of the most natural athletes
I’ve seen in a long time.”
Richard Migliore, who heads NYRA’s apprentice jockey program, said
Ortiz has become a formidable force as he has gained experience and poise,
which will help him after he loses his apprentice allowance February 2.
“I think his potential is unlimited,” said Migliore. “He
looks good on horses and has just the right balance of confidence and humility.
His confidence has hit a place that has enabled him to ride at an even bigger
level. We’ve really seen him blossom from a confidence standpoint.”