No sooner had he finally taken the solo lead as the highest-ranked jockey based in the U.S. than Corvid-19 took racing by the scruff of the neck and Irad Ortiz Jr decided to give the sport a break.
“After a lot of consideration, I have decided to stop riding,” the world #6 said on Twitter yesterday (Thursday). “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.”
The Puerto Rican, top of the U.S. earnings list and winner of the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Jockey in each of the last two years, has been high in the TRC rankings all that time, but his results in Graded races had not been quite good enough to elevate him to the top ahead of the likes of former U.S. #1s Mike Smith, Joel Rosario and Javier Castellano. But he had a stunning 2019 and has maintained that pace through the current Gulfstream Park meet so far in 2020 and has now assumed what many will believe is his rightful place at the top.
Also leaving the racetrack for the time being because of coronavirus is another jockey who has been riding at Gulfstream, the Jamaica-born Rajiv Maragh.
“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 tweeted yesterday. “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.”
It is likely that other riders will follow suit.
While Ortiz’s ascendancy in the TRC standings may be over for a while, two other riders in different parts of the world made significant moves this week, one affecting the world top three.
Ryan Moore down to world #3
That was Frenchman Christophe Lemaire, who has now overtaken Ryan Moore to become world #2 behind Frankie Dettori. Lemaire, who is based in Japan, was on board the week’s highest-rated scorer worldwide (according to Racing Post Ratings), Saturnalia, an impressive winner of the 2200-metre Kinko Sho at Chukyo on Sunday (see video below).
The most notable climber of the week in terms of points gained, however, is Sydney-based New Zealander James McDonald, who landed two G2s and two G3s on a glittering card at Rosehill on Saturday. That resulted in eight extra performance index points, lifting him two places into the top ten for the first time since his return in 2018 after an 18-month ban for betting.
McDonald is now hard on the heels of longtime Aussie #1 Hugh Bowman, a former world #1, in theTRC Australia standings, and tomorrow’s even-more-glittering Rosehill card, which includes the Golden Slipper, gives them both big opportunities to improve their positions in one of the few major jurisdictions where racing is still going ahead, albeit without public spectators.