NYRA brothers headed to the Kentucky Derby
May 01, 2014 | 9402 views | 0 0 comments | 245 245 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Jose Ortiz
Jose Ortiz
Irad Ortiz, Jr.
Irad Ortiz, Jr.
The New York-based trio of Samraat, Wicked Strong, and Uncle Sigh had their final major preps for Saturday’s Kentucky Derbylast week, with Samraat working a mile at Aqueduct Racetrack and Wicked Strong and Uncle Sigh breezing seven and five furlongs, respectively, over Belmont Park’s training track.

“I really didn’t want him to go too fast,” said Rick Violette, who trains Samraat for Leonard Riggio’s My Meadowview Stable. “We just wanted to get it done. Time was only important if he went too fast, and he didn’t. He went great.”

At Belmont Park, both Wicked Strong and Uncle Sigh went out after the second renovation break at 9:30 a.m.

“I like the way he worked,” said Wicked Strong trainer Jimmy Jerkens. “A lot of things have to work out. He’s got to handle the crowd, he’s got to handle the track, he’s got to handle all the other things that go with it. At least he’s going there in a good frame of mind and in good condition.”

Uncle Sigh, who was 1-3-0 in four starts before finishing fifth in the Wood, went five furlongs under former jockey and exercise rider Nick Santagata.

“It was a very strong work,” said trainer Gary Contessa of the Wounded Warrior Stable color-bearer. “His last quarter-mile was effortless and it was exactly what I was looking for. He came back like he can’t even blow out a match.”

It was the second time Uncle Sigh worked in blinkers, which he will wear in the Derby.

“He’s much more focused,” said Contessa. “Everybody that puts blinkers on before the Derby worries about being the next Palace Malice.”

NYRA brothers headed to the Kentucky Derby

When the starting gate opens for the 11th race on Saturday, May 3 at Churchill Downs, two young brothers from Puerto Rico will have realized a childhood dream: to ride in the Kentucky Derby.

By doing so, jockeys Jose and Irad Ortiz, Jr. will become only the third pair of siblings to compete in the Derby, joining brothers Eddie and Sam Maple, who both rode in the 1984 edition of the race, and Chris and Gregg McCarron, who contested the race in 1976.

And to underscore their achievement, at ages 20 and 21, respectively, the Ortiz brothers will also be the youngest to do so.

“It’s a terrific accomplishment,” said trainer Rick Violette, who will give Jose Ortiz a leg up aboard My Meadowview Farm’s Samraat in the Derby. “It’s probably very, very limited in any sport where two brothers have reached the top.”

The Ortiz brothers’ rise to the highest level of the sport on The New York Racing Assocation, Inc. (NYRA) circuit has been extraordinarily quick.

In 2011, Irad’s first year in New York, he won 151 races from 1,016 starts and amassed $2,861,694 in earnings. The following year, his first without an apprentice allowance, he bested his win total by one despite riding 329 more horses, but his earnings skyrocketed to $9,134,832.

In 2013, Irad solidified his status as a top jockey, riding 223 winners from 1,508 mounts and bolstering his earnings even further, to $14,344,538, fifth in the nation.

Jose’s ascension to the upper echelon of riders has been just as swift. He booted home 98 winners out of 697 mounts in 2012, his first year in New York, and earned north of $3 million.

In 2013, he won 224 races from 1,398 starts and earned $12,635,662, good for No. 11 among North American jockeys.

So far this year, the two are virtually deadlocked in purse money, with Jose at $4,187,322 and Irad at $4,125,984 through April 25. For the second year, they finished 1-2 in the Big A’s inner-track jockey standings, with Irad edging his brother both times.

The expectation might be that such rapid success would change the brothers, but that has not been the case.

They have earned just as much respect from local horsemen for their humility and work ethic off the track as they have for their skill in the afternoons in New York, where they have ridden almost exclusively.

“They still live very conservative lifestyles, they just love to ride,” said Violette. “And maybe that’s [the key to their success]. They’re nice kids and they’ve maintained their balance through everything, which doesn’t always happen.”

As children, Irad and Jose would sneak into Hipodromo Camarero in Puerto Rico, and there they fell in love with the sport.

They both attended their native country’s Escuela Vocacional Hipica, a school for prospective jockeys. Among their idols are Angel Cordero, Jr. and John Velazquez, both native Puerto Ricans and Hall of Famers, who now serve as mentors to the young jockeys.

On the first Saturday in May, the brothers will have the opportunity to ride alongside their childhood hero in the Derby, as Velazquez has the mount aboard Intense Holiday.

“I’m very excited,” said Irad Ortiz, who will be aboard the Gary Contessa-trained Uncle Sigh. “It’s always been my dream to ride in the Derby.”

Although natives of Trujillo Alto in Puerto Rico, both Irad and Jose have become New Yorkers, sharing a house five minutes from Belmont Park.

“The Derby has been my dream,” said Jose Ortiz, echoing the words of his brother. “And now it’s coming true.”

Belmont opens May 1

Anchored by the 146th running of the Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes on June 7, Belmont Park opened on Thursday, May 1, with world-class racing forming the backbone of the 54-day spring/summer meet and a host of improvements and special events to enhance the guest experience.

Guests will be able to experience the entire Triple Crown series at Belmont Park beginning on Kentucky Derby Day, Saturday, May 3.

Gates will open at 10 a.m. and fans can watch and wager on all the racing action from Churchill Downs and root for their favorite New York horses in the Derby, as well as enjoy the first two of 29 graded stakes during the Belmont meet: the Grade 3 Beaugay and the Grade 3 Fort Marcy, both $150,000 events on the turf.

Admission to both the Grandstand and Clubhouse at Belmont Park is only $5, excluding Belmont Stakes Day, when Grandstand admission is $10 and Clubhouse admission is $30.
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