It was Irad Ortiz Jr’s trophy last year, and all the indications are that it could well be his again come Saturday night. The elder of the two Puerto Rican brothers who have become such a major asset to racing in the United States has rides in 12 of the 14 championship races at the Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita, starting tonight (Friday), and five of them are categorised as having major chances.
That puts the 27-year-old world #9 in a pole positions to win the 17th Bill Shoemaker Award for the outstanding jockey in the two-day ‘world championships’.
The award, named in honor of one of the greatest jockeys in history, will go to the rider with the most wins. Should there be a tie among two or more, the deadlock will be broken on a 10-3-1 point system for second-through-fourth finishes.
Irad Ortiz has had a magnificent 2019 already, with 30 Group or Graded wins, behind only Javier Castellano (32) among U.S.-based jockeys. Counting all riders who will be at Santa Anita, just two others - world leader Frankie Dettori (39) and #2 Ryan Moore (31) - have collected more Group/Graded scores since January 1.
A sixth of Ortiz’s total has come from the formidable Bricks And Mortar, whose five 2019 Graded wins include the Pegasus World Cup Turf in January and the Arlington Million in August, both G1s. The son of Giant’s Causeway, some people’s favourite to be U.S. Horse of the Year, goes for the Longines Turf tomorrow and is top of the list of Ortiz’s ‘strong chances’ despite a significant European presence. The others are Four Wheel Drive(Juvenile Turf Sprint), Decorated Invader (Juvenile Turf), Dennis’ Moment(Juvenile), and Vino Rosso (Longines Classic). Many of his other rides are not exactly no-hopers either.
However, as you can see in the table below, both John Velazquez and Joel Rosario have even more ‘strong chances’ for glory this weekend.
Breeders’ Cup jockeys with most Group/Graded wins worldwide in 2019
Castellano is also very much a contender for the Shoemaker Award, but Moore, and particularly Dettori, seem to have slim prospects. However, don’t rule out world #4 Mike Smith. The 54-year-old may not be as busy as his younger rivals, but quality not quantity seems to be his rule, and, with Scabbard (Juvenile), Omaha Beach (Big Ass Fans Dirt Mile) and Midnight Bisou (Longines Distaff) on his team, not to mention Yoshida in the Classic, he is very much a contender.
California-based Flavien Prat is the busiest rider of the meet - he will be in action in all 14 races.
Only one runner will have a woman aboard - Sophie Doyle rides Street Band for trainer Larry Band in the Distaff. The partnership has already been victorious in three Graded races this year, including the G1 Cotillion Stakes at Parx last time.