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IRAD SET TO DEFEND GP TITLE

Edited Gulfstream Staff Release – Enjoying one of the best seasons of his highly decorated career, jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. has made his way back to South Florida with the mission of ending the year as strongly as it began.

            Ortiz, 31, returns to Gulfstream Park starting Thursday to begin his riding title defense at the 2023-2024 Championship Meet, the nation’s premiere winter racing destination that began its 85-day run Dec. 1.

            A total of 68 stakes worth $14.875 million in purses will be offered led by the $4.5 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational series Jan. 27 and the $1 million Florida Derby (G1) March 30. The Championship Meet concludes March 31.

            Ortiz will be busy in his first weekend back. He is named in seven of 10 races Thursday and Friday and nine of 11 races Saturday including Ozara for trainer Christophe Clement in the $100,000 Wait a While and Noted for Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher in the $100,000 Pulpit.

            In all, Ortiz is named on 25 horses over his first three days for 17 different trainers, among them Mike Maker, Eddie Plesa Jr., Carlos David, Riley Mott, Jose D’Angelo, Joe Orseno, Chad Brown and Jane Cibelli.

            “It’s great to be back. They support me a lot. I love the people. They treat me really, really good and that makes it special,” Ortiz said. “They make me feel like home. I have some trainers I ride for that are waiting for me there and that keeps me hungry. It’s exciting.”

            Ortiz arrives at Gulfstream after earning his fifth Bill Shoemaker Award as top jockey at the Breeders’ Cup World Championships, raising his career total to 20 wins following victories in the $6 million Classic (G1) aboard White Abarrio, $2 million Sprint (G1) on Elite Power and $1 million Filly & Mare Sprint (G1) with Goodnight Olive. All three horses will be in the mix for Eclipse Awards as divisional champions.

            For his part, Ortiz is likely headed to a fifth Eclipse Award as champion jockey following wins in 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2022. According to Equibase statistics, he is approaching his career-high of 346 wins set in 2018 and has already broken his own single-season North American record for purse earnings with $37,791,462. Ortiz banked the previous mark of $37,640,792 in 2022.

            Ortiz has won 337 races – that and his earnings easily tops in North America – with 65 stakes wins, 40 in graded company. For his career, he has 3,715 wins, 596 in stakes, 304 of them graded, and more than $303.5 million in purse earnings.

            “You start good [at Gulfstream] and it’s great because you start the year off on the right foot,” Ortiz said. “It’s very competitive. You have the best jockeys in the wintertime going there. It’s not easy. It’s been working out good, to be honest.”

            Represented by agent Steve Rushing, Ortiz returned to the top of the Championship Meet standings last winter with 128 wins, after having his three-year win streak snapped by Luis Saez in 2021-2022. Ortiz also had a meet-high $7.5 million in purse earnings, setting the stage for what has been a memorable 2023 campaign.

            Ortiz won 14 stakes during the 2022-2023 meet, 10 of them graded, led by 2022 2-year-old champion Forte in the Fountain of Youth (G2) and Florida Derby and Atone in the $1 million Pegasus Turf (G1). Ortiz also won the Florida Derby in 2021, the $3 million Pegasus World Cup (G1) in 2020 and 2022 and has won four of the five runnings of the Pegasus Turf, including three in a row.

            Other graded triumphs came in the Harlan’s Holiday (G2), Pan American (G2), W. L. McKnight (G3), La Prevoyante (G3), Kitten’s Joy (G3), Sweetest Chant (G3) and Royal Delta (G3). On Feb. 3 he rode seven winners on a single card, tying Jerry Bailey, Tyler Gaffalione, Luis Saez and Paco Lopez for the track record while becoming the first ever to win seven in a row.

            Since his first full winter of 2017-2018, Ortiz has won 699 races at Gulfstream, an average of 116.5 per season. He has led the standings four times, winning a track-record 140 races in 2020-2021, and has been first in purse earnings five consecutive years including 2021-2022, when he rode just 279 races and finished with 80 wins and $5.05 million.

            Nationally, Ortiz has been in the top five in wins and purse earnings every year since 2014 and has won 300 or more races each season since 2015. Also first in purses from 2018-20 and 2022, he is on the way to having the most wins for a seventh straight year.

            “Believe me, we work so hard and we try to not look back. We just try to do the best we can for the whole year. By this time of year you realize how you’re doing, after all the big races and everything, and we are having a good year,” Ortiz said. “We are very grateful. We thank God for every opportunity they give us to live these moments. We feel blessed to be in this position. We love this game. We love riding and we have to thank the horses because they run for us. They make the sport special.”

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