By Noel Michaels
Irad Ortiz, Jr. is at the end of his 30-day suspension, brother Jose Ortiz is riding in New York this winter, so take it away Luis Saez in the race for top jockey at Gulfstream Park.
Last year, Irad easily won the riding title with 140 winners, while Jose won 50 races. The Gulfstream meet began Dec. 3 and runs through April 3.
Saez has a commanding lead, with Paco Lopez second at 24 wins and Tyler Gaffalione second in winning percentage at 20%. John Velazquez currently has four wins from 14 mounts for 29%, but he’s riding primarily at Santa Anita this winter. Joel Rosario, meanwhile, is recovering from bruised ribs, but when he returns, he’ll be based at Oaklawn Park with many quick trips for top races at Gulfstream.
Saez was hot to end 2021. He won five races at Gulfstream on Dec. 26 and four the next racing day, Dec. 29. His stats are strong on all three surfaces at Gulfstream (turf, dirt, Tapeta), but it is on the main track where he’s really standing tall over the other riders, currently winning over one-third of his starts on the dirt (20 wins through Jan. 1).
To illustrate Saez’s dominance on the main track, the next closest jockeys have been Lopez with eight wins and Emisael Jaramillo and Edgard Zayas with six wins each.
Saez and Lopez lead the way in turf winners with five apiece through Jan. 1. On the Tapita course, it is Saez leading with 11 wins. Junior Alvarado is next with eight from 42 starters (19%).
Irad’s return will have a major impact on the jock’s leaderboard as he rides most of Chad Brown’s top horses. He led the nation in wins with 336 in 2021 and was second behind Rosario in earnings. His G1 winners in 2021 included Life is Good in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, Golden Pal in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint , Letruska in the Apple Blossom, and Colonel Liam in the Pegasus Turf Invitational. Ortiz was by far the leading rider at the 2020-2021 Gulfstream Champions Meet with 140 wins from 525 mounts (27%). Lopez was second with 98 winners.
Rosario’s big winners in 2021
Rosario has been out since early December when he suffered a hairline fracture in his ribs in a spill at Aqueduct. He’s expected to return in the next week or two.
Rosario is on the cusp of winning his first Eclipse Award for outstanding jockey for 2021. He led all jockeys in earnings in 2021 with his mounts winning nearly $33 million in purses. His 228 winners included 49 graded stakes wins, with G1 wins including the Breeders’ Cup Classic, Whitney, and Pegasus World Cup aboard likely Horse of the Year Knicks Go. He also scored G1 wins with Echo Zulu, Gufo, Idol, Jackie’s Warrior, Kimari, and Malathaat.
As for Jose Ortiz, perhaps he is regretting his decision not to ride at Gulfstream. Ortiz currently is not even the leading rider at Aqueduct, where he has ridden 12 winners since Dec. 9, third in the standings through Jan. 2.
Noel Michaels has been involved in many aspects of thoroughbred racing for more than two decades, as a Breeders’ Cup-winning owner and as a writer, author, handicapper, editor, manager and promoter of the sport for a wide range of companies including Daily Racing Form and Nassau County Off-Track Betting.
He also is regarded as the leading source of news and information for handicapping tournaments and the author of the “Handicapping Contest Handbook: A Horseplayer’s Guide to Handicapping Tournaments”, which made his name virtually synonymous with the increasingly-popular tournament scene.
In addition to contributing to US Racing, he is also an analyst on the Arlington Park broadcast team.