HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – It didn’t take long for two-time defending Championship Meet leading jockey and Eclipse Award champion Irad Ortiz Jr. to get back into the swing of things.
Riding for the first time since March 19 after taking time off due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the 27-year-old Ortiz scored a 1 ¼-length victory aboard The Mighty Judge in Gulfstream’s Park’s fourth race Friday – his first of nine mounts on the 12-race program.
Ortiz didn’t stop there. He rattled off the next two winners – Basquiat ($5.80), a first-time starter by 2015 Triple Crown champion American Pharoah, in Race 5 and Catharsis ($11.60) in Race 6 – as well as even-money favorite Dr Post ($4.20) in the featured $75,000 Unbridled Stakes for 3-year-olds to finish with four on the afternoon.
“It feels great to be back and doing what I love. It feels really good coming right back to the winner’s circle,” Ortiz said. “I thank the owners and the trainers for the confidence and for giving me the opportunity to ride their horses.”
Edward J. Short’s The Mighty Judge ($5), trained by Jane Cibelli, was sent off the 3-2 favorite over 10 rivals in the one-mile claiming event for 3-year-olds and up. The winning time was 1:35.17 over a turf course rated good following early afternoon showers.
The Mighty Judge, a 5-year-old son of Curlin, settled between horses in mid-pack behind a moderate pace of 23.14 and 46.51 seconds until Ortiz swung outside around the far turn and set down for the wire through the stretch for The Mighty Judge’s third career win and first since last May at Gulfstream.
“The last time he broke a little slow when he broke from the 10 hole, so he had a little better post today. I tried to warm him up to keep him sharp and he broke really good,” Ortiz said. “I just held my position and I knew he was going to finish because the last time he came from way back and just got beat [two] lengths. Today he was closer so I said, ‘Man he’s going to be right there.’”
Ortiz chose to stop riding following the March 19 program at Gulfstream with eight days remaining in the Championship Meet out of concerns for his family, remaining at home in Hollywood, Fla. with his expectant wife and two children. After seeing Gulfstream’s success with spectator-free racing and its commitment to the health and safety of horses, horsemen and employees, Ortiz decided the time was right to return.
Ortiz is set up in a separate area from the regular jockeys’ room, and received warm greetings from horsemen and fellow riders both when he emerged for the first time and on his way back following the win.
“We are close friends. We spend a lot of time here. We spend probably more time here than home, so we see each other all the time,” Ortiz said. “It’s nice to be back.”
Ortiz is named in eight of 11 races Sunday including Reeves Thoroughbred Racing’s promising 3-year-old Ournationonparade, winner of the Maryland Million Nursery at 2, in featured Race 10. Ortiz replaces Luca Panici, who was injured in Friday’s fifth race at Gulfstream.
Gulfstream Park Press Release
Photo: Irad Ortiz Jr. rides Dr Post to the win in the Unbridled. Credit: Coglianese Photos/ Ryan Thompson