By Noel Michaels
Fans of New York racing looking for leading riders Irad Ortiz, Jr. and Jose Ortiz were left flipping through their past performances and scratching their heads last weekend at Belmont Park.
If you were wondering what happened to the top Belmont jockeys, here’s the rundown:
Brothers Irad and Jose Ortiz were off serving suspensions dating back to the Saratoga and Belmont spring/summer meets. Other top riders, including Javier Castellano, Joel Rosario, and Junior Alvarado also missed days and were limited for the first three days of the Belmont fall meet.
Irad Ortiz is serving a total suspension of 10 racing days – two five-day suspensions). Irad, the leading rider at Saratoga and five-time top rider at the Belmont fall meet, can return on Oct. 4.
Jose Ortiz’s suspension ended, and his name was back in the entries for Thursday. Joel Rosario missed last week’s opening days Friday and Saturday due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Suspensions to Castellano and Alvarado encompass three racing days through Friday. They are scheduled to return on Saturday (Sept. 26).
COVID-19 health and safety measures implemented by the New York Racing Association will continue to impact jockeys. Riders cannot ship out of town at this meet and then return to ride, and in order to participate, jockeys must first have completed two negative tests in a five-day span before being allowed to enter the jock’s room.
Luis Saez could have big meet
With so many top riders missing so many days to start the season, other riders have a chance to shine early at Belmont. Luis Saez, who finished the Saratoga season on a hot streak, has sprinted to the lead in the jockey standings with six wins from 29 mounts for 21% winners. He is followed by Manny Franco, who won five races from 25 mounts for 20%. Jose Lezcano and Dylan Davis scored four wins apiece, making Davis perhaps the primary beneficiary of so many other jocks’ absences.
As the meet plays out, Irad Ortiz and Jose Ortiz are still expected to contend for the riding title, although it’s unlikely Irad could win after missing the first 10 days of the meet.
The Ortiz brothers are coming off big seasons at Saratoga. Their battle for leading rider came down to the final day when Irad Ortiz narrowly edged Jose Ortiz for the title 59-58. Jose won the Spa riding title with 60 victories in 2018 and also won in 2016 and 2017, while Irad was leading rider in 2018.
Handicappers should take note that Saez finished with a flourish at Saratoga and nearly caught Rosario for third to finish with 45 wins. Saez was fourth at last year’s Belmont fall meet, and has a legit shot at taking the title.