By David Joseph/Gulfstream Park
It didn’t take long for reigning Eclipse Award-winning jockey Irad Ortiz to get back into the swing of things as he returned to action on Saturday with a four-timer at Gulfstream Park.
Riding for the first time since March 19 after taking time off due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the 27-year-old scored a 1¼-length victory aboard The Mighty Judge in the fourth race – his first of nine mounts on the 12-race programme at Gulfstream.
Ortiz didn’t stop there. He rattled off the next two winners – Basquiat, a first-time starter by 2015 Triple Crown champion American Pharoah, in Race 5 and Catharsis in Race 6 – as well as even-money favourite Dr Post in the featured $75,000 Unbridled Stakes for three-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.”
Ortiz chose to stop riding following the March 19 programme at Gulfstream with eight days remaining in the Championship Meet out of concerns for his family, remaining at home in Hollywood, Florida, with his pregnant 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.
He 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,” said Ortiz. “We spend a lot of time here. We spend probably more time here than home, so we see each other all the time. It’s nice to be back.”
Saturday’s US highlight was the Carousel Stakes, a $125,000 event at Oaklawn Park in which G1 winner Mia Mischief (Steve Asmussen/Ricardo Santana) ran out a 4½-winner over Amy’s Challenge. The favourite Bellafina had a troubled trip before finishing only fourth.