By Nicholas Godfrey
USA: America’s reigning champion jockey Irad Ortiz has announced that he is to stop riding amid the coronavirus crisis.
Ortiz, the Eclipse Award-winning jockey of 2018-19, revealed his decision in a tweet on Thursday after he had ridden two winners from six rides at Gulfstream Park.
The 27-year-old Puerto Rican is the leading rider in North America in 2020 in both winners and prize-money.
“After a lot of consideration, I have decided to stop riding,” tweeted Ortiz. “This is the safest decision for my family and myself. Hopefully, we can all make it safely out of this quarantine sooner than later and get back to what we all love.”
Although they have been racing without paying spectators at Gulfstream Park, Friday’s card was abandoned to update protocols in a number of areas, including the jockeys’ room.
The Florida venue was due to resume activities on Saturday, when Ortiz was booked to ride at the Louisiana Derby meeting at Fair Grounds in New Orleans.
Ortiz’s Gulfstream Park-based colleague Rajiv Maragh also said he would no longer continue riding amid the pandemic.
“For the best chance of staying healthy for myself and my family today is the last day I will be riding until things are in better order,” Maragh said on Twitter. “Hopefully the owners and trainers who I’m riding for don’t hold it against me in the future but the well being of myself and my family is first.”
Racing in the US is continuing behind closed doors at various major venues, among them Santa Anita and Oaklawn Park, alongside Gulfstream Park and Fair Grounds.
However, on Thursday racing at Aqueduct was suspended until further notice after a groom based at sister track Belmont Park tested positive for COVID-19.
Keeneland has also cancelled its prestigious Spring Meet, while more stringent state-wide restrictions in California have raised serious questions about both Santa Anita and Golden Gate.
On Thursday, California Governor Gavin Newsom issued an order telling residents in America’s most populous state to stay at home. It came into effect on Thursday night.
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