By Richard Rosenblatt
It almost seemed like one Ortiz or the other was leading a horse to the winner’s circle after a race at the recently completed summer season at Saratoga Race Course.
For the third time in four years, Jose Ortiz won the Spa’s riding title with 60 winners, including three Grade 1 stakes – the Alabama with Dunbar Road, the Coaching Club American Oaks with Guanara and the Hopeful with Basin to close out the meet on Monday.
His brother, Irad Ortiz, Jr., finished second in the standings with 53 victories, including the Grade 1 Spinaway on Sunday and the Grade 2 Jim Dandy in July.
Combined, the Ortiz brothers rode 113 winners out of the 403 races run during the meet that opened July 11 and closed Sept. 2. That’s 28 per cent of the time these guys piloted the winning horse! Or, something along the lines of better than one Ortiz in the winner’s circle every four races.
“This meet is tough. It’s the best horses and they came from all over, so it makes it tougher,’’ said Jose. “Everybody brings their best here. We have so many good riders here. It means a lot. We have some Hall of Famers and future Hall of Famers in here.”
The Ortiz brothers, in their mid-20s, are future Hall of Famers, and they’ll be at it again when the Belmont fall season kicks off Friday at Belmont Park, competing again against Hall of Famers including Javier Castellano and John Velazquez.
Jose’s totals at the Spa were 60-46-37 from 280 mounts, with earnings of $5.46 million. Irad’s totals were 53-54-38 from 272 mounts and earnings of $4.7 million.
Irad, who won the Spa riding title last year, also is the regular rider for Bricks and Mortar, a leading Horse of the Year contender who won the Arlington Million (G1) at Arlington International Racecourse on Aug. 10.
While the Ortiz’s dominated the jockey standings, there were plenty of standout performances as usual, with perhaps the most thrilling being the stretch duel between Midnight Bisou and Elate in the Personal Ensign (G1) on Travers Day, with Midnight Bisou winning by a nose under Hall of Famer Mike Smith. Jose Ortiz was aboard Elate. A little later in the day, trainer Shug McGaughey’s Code of Honor stamped himself a rising 3-year-old star by winning the $1.25 million Travers (G1), the showcase race of the meet that drew a crowd of 48,213.
On July 19, it was announced that socialite, philanthropist and horse owner/breeder Marylou Whitney, the Queen of Saratoga, died at the age of 93. A moment of silence was observed at the track that day. On Aug. 3, the day of the Whitney Stakes (G1) – won by McKinzie — Whitney’s husband John Hendrickson was in the winner’s circle presenting the trophy to winning trainer Bob Baffert.
“That was a wonderful race, and I think she would be happy that the day was a celebration,’’ said Hendrickson. A crowd of 40,791 showed up.
Of course, you can’t wrap up the Spa without mention of Chad Brown, the meet’s leading trainer for the second year in a row with 41 victories (earnings totaled $5.5 million). Todd Pletcher was a distant second with 21 wins.
Brown saddled nine graded-stakes winners, including Annals of Time in the Sword Dancer (G1), Dunbar Road in the Alabama, Guarana in the Coaching Club American Oaks and Sistercharlie in the Diana (G1).
He also came up with some huge winners far from the Spa. His horses pulled off a four graded-stakes sweep at Arlington on Aug. 10 – Bricks and Mortar taking the Million, Sistercharlie winning the Beverly D, Valid Point taking the Secretariat (all Grade 1’s), and Café Americano winning the Grade 3 Pucker Up.
At Del Mar in California a week later, Brown’s Cambier Parc won the Del Mar Oaks.
Brown’s Spa totals were 41-40-31 with 178 starters, for a 23 per cent winning percentage.
“It’s an honor. So many people who put in so much hard work and so many horses showed up and gave very fine efforts the whole meet,” said Brown. “The four Grade 1s really stand out. From top to bottom, my horses gave really strong efforts.
“It’s a tough meet. You have to bring your best and I thought it was a real competitive meet. I saw a lot of great horses run who didn’t win. Our stable is very deep, and the staff executed everything really well.”
The leading owner for the second summer in a row was Klaravich Stables, with 19 wins, 20 seconds and seven third from 65 starts.
On Monday’s final day of racing at the Spa, Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen pulled off a 1-2-3 finish in the $350,000 Runhappy Hopeful (G1), with Basin outkicking stablemate Shoplifted, and Gozilla running third. The field was reduced to six 2-year-olds with the scratch of pre-race favorite Green Light Go.
“Those are three very talented horses and hopefully that’s the last time they’ll run against each other for a while,” said Asmussen, who also trains Midnight Bisou and Mitole, another Spa star who atoned for a third-place finish in the Alfred G. Vanderbilt (G1) on July 27 with a three-length win in the Forego (G2) on Travers Day.
Prior to the running of the Hopeful, Qurbaan won the $250,000 Bernard Baruch (G2) for the second year in a row – it was his first win in eight races since that 2018 victory. The 6-year-old trained by Kiaran McLaughlin and ridden by Joel Rosario won by 2 ½ lengths over Sacred Life.
Over the years while working at The Associated Press, Rich Rosenblatt became a familiar name to legions of the horse racing fans and industry insiders with his award-winning articles on horse racing and his stories from the backstretch.
In addition to being an astute observer of sports, Rosenblatt is the co-author of The All-American Chili Cookbook. His work has been seen in just about every publication in the world, including The New York Times, The Washington Post and Time Magazine.