Reigning Eclipse Award champion Irad Ortiz Jr. claimed the 2018-2019 Championship Meet riding title at Gulfstream Park Sunday, prevailing over defending two-time titlist Luis Saez, 135-134.
“It feels great. I got a lot of support from the owners and trainers and my agent, Jay Rushing, does a great job. I have no words for how I feel now,” Ortiz said.
Saez rode the winners of Races 3, 4 and 9 Sunday to pull into a tie for the lead, but Ortiz came back to capture Race 10 with Scam to take a one-win lead into the final race of the day. The 26-year-old Puerto Rico-born jockey claimed the title when Saez finished second in Race 11.
“Luis is a great rider. He never gives up. I enjoyed everything. Everybody was asking all the numbers and everybody was watching,” Ortiz said.
Riding full time during the Championship Meet for the first time, Ortiz captured nine graded stakes race, including the inaugural $7 million Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational (G1) aboard Bricks and Mortar Jan. 26.
“The way we started the year is so good. We win the Pegasus and a lot of stakes. I'm so happy now,” Ortiz said.
Saez, who captured Saturday's $1 million Xpressbet.com Florida Derby (G1) aboard Maximum Security, still holds the record for most wins during a season, set during a 137-win 2017-2018 season.
Jorge Navarro, who saddled X Y Jet for a victory in the $2 million Golden Shaheen (G1) on Saturday's Dubai World Cup card, captured his first Championship Meet title with 53 victories, breaking Todd Pletcher's string of 15 consecutive titles. Pletcher finished second after saddling winners at a 25-percent strike rate.
Navarro client Joseph Besecker was the leading owner with 19 visits to the winner's circle.
Live racing will return to Gulfstream for the start of the Spring Meet on Thursday. First-race post time for an eight-race opening day card is set for 1:15 p.m.
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