Once again, Irad Ortiz, Jr. was involved in a race-riding kerfuffle, this time as he rode odds-on favorite Forte to a narrow victory over Saudi Crown in the $500,000 Jim Dandy (G2) on Saturday over a sloppy track at Saratoga.
The win was the first for Forte in four months, a tumultuous time that saw him scratched from the Kentucky Derby (G1) with a foot bruise and then finish second in the Belmont Stakes (G1) after being voted champion 2-year-old male in 2022.
Forte, trained by Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher, was declared the winner of the Jim Dandy a few minutes after a stewards’ inquiry that involved Forte bumping with Angel of Empire and Saudi Crown in the stretch.
“After what we’ve been through the last four months, the horse deserves this win. He gutted it out,’’ Forte co-owner Mike Repole said. “To get him back in the winner’s circle after four months is special. Today, he’s the best 3-year-old in the country.”
Ortiz, the nation’s leading jockey and perhaps the most aggressive, had Forte racing third in the five-horse field, with Saudi Crown leading the way as expected, and Angel of Empire racing off Forte’s flank in third.
As the field hit the quarter pole and turned for home, Ortiz maneuvered Forte off the rail and bumped with Angel of Empire as he bulled his way past and then took on Saudi Crown. Forte closed with every stride toward the wire, and also brushed with Saudi Crown before winning by a nose in the final stride.
Ortiz pulled a similar maneuver in a race several days earlier at the Spa, his horse was disqualified, and the jockey was handed a pending three-day suspension, according to FOX Sports, which televised the race. Ortiz has been suspended several times for careless riding over the past few years.
Here’s Ortiz’s version of what took place in the stretch on Saturday: “I was close to the rail. The horse in front (Saudi Crown) stayed there. I had a chance to hit the clear, I did. As soon as I hit the clear, my horse go forward.
“The horse in front, I don’t know if he see something, but he was getting out bad. He kept coming out, coming out, but I’m on his heels. It was hard to stop at the moment of the race. I was right there. I was close to making the lead. He kept coming out and Flo (Geroux) tried to do his best (aboard Saudi Crown) and I have to keep riding. At the same time, I have the other horse (Angel of Empire), finally we get straight, and he corrects his horse, and we get to the wire and thank God, we get a head in front at the end.”
Geroux said: “It (the bumping) was not affecting me. It was between the 2 and the 5 (Forte and Angel of Empire). I had nothing to do with it.”
Forte, who would have likely been the Derby favorite if not scratched the morning of race, opened his 3-year-old season by winning the Fountain of Youth (G2) and the Florida Derby (G1) on April 1 after clinching the 2-year-old championship with a win in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1). He also won the Hopeful (G1) in 2022 at the Spa but was only recently disqualified after test results revealed a medication violation. A final decision is pending.
Trainer Brad Cox had three of the five entries – Saudi Crown was second, Angel of Empire, and Hit Show was fifth. Disarm finished fourth for trainer Steve Asmussen.
Cox would not criticize the stewards’ decision and said: “I’m very proud of the effort. He (Saudi Crown) is a Grade 1 horse in the future. Angel of Empire ran well as well. Hit Show missed the break a little bit and it cost him a little bit.”
Winning time for the 1 1/8-miles over a sloppy, sealed track was 1:49.61. Sent off as the 3-5 favorite, Forte returned $3.50 for a $2 win bet.
The writing team at US Racing is comprised of both full-time and part-time contributors with expertise in various aspects of the Sport of Kings.