SARATOGA SPRING, N.Y. – Irad Ortiz, Jr. has reached the pinnacle of the riding profession in capturing the last three Eclipse Awards for Outstanding Jockey.
Ortiz, Jr. has led all North American riders in both total wins and earnings in every campaign since 2017 and will be aiming to reach that mark for a fifth consecutive year in 2021.
But in addition to his 2016 Belmont Stakes win, his 11 Breeders’ Cup victories and his three riding titles at the prestigious summer meet at Saratoga Race Course, the soon-to-be 29-year-old also has been active in promoting the welfare of the New York Racing Association’s backstretch community.
For his efforts, Ortiz, Jr. was honored by the New York Racetrack Chaplaincy in July in recognition of his support. The New York Race Track Chaplaincy provides children’s enrichment, social service, recreational, and educational programs, as well as non-denominational religious services to backstretch workers.
Besides your impact as a jockey, you’ve made a big difference off the track with your contributions to assist backstretch workers. When you were honored by the New York Race Track Chaplaincy in July, what did that award mean to you?
“It meant a lot to me. Since 2011 I’ve been here and when I wake up at 4 a.m. and get to the track, I always see them and I know and respect all those people, and I know they feel the same with me. They wake up so early and work all day with a horse that I’ll get on for only a minute and a half. They don’t earn that much money, and there’s not many things you can do to pay them back, so I feel if I can help them with something, I should. They are like a family to me.”
How important is it to set an example that it is important to help improve the lives of backstretch workers whose contributions keep the sport thriving?
“I hope they follow our example. Thank God I’m in a position where I can help. Some aren’t in the same position, but if people are in the right position, I think they should do it, because the backstretch puts a lot of work into the horses. Without them, this sport doesn’t run.”
How appreciative has the backstretch community been for the support?
“They all know me and they’re so good to me, so it makes me feel happy when I go out there and they are supporting me. I enjoy it.”
What has your working relationship been like with Chaplain Humberto Chavez and the New York Race Track Chaplaincy?
“Humberto always comes here. We pray before races. I know him well and if I can help, I always try to help. I try to do a little more, little by little, and they always appreciate the help. I respect him a lot. They work so hard, and especially when the pandemic hit, he was right there. There aren’t too many people like that.”
After the difficult circumstances for the entire industry last year, how good does it feel to see more people on the backstretch and to be able to interact with them like in the past?
“Last year, it was so sad; when you saw people couldn’t work and people were scared to get close to other people. That’s not life. That’s not what I grew up seeing. It was a sad year. We lost some friends. After that, when I see people trying to help each other, I felt much better. Now that we went through that and we’re back together out there, I’m happy.”
NYRA Cares News Release
Photo: Irad Ortiz Jr. (NYRA)