Jockey Jose Ortiz is scheduled to return to action in Thursday's first race at Gulfstream Park in a quest for a big finish to a banner year that was interrupted Dec. 3 by knee surgery.
The 24-year-old riding star, who will ride Shar Ran in the first race, had originally expected to miss six weeks of action after undergoing surgery to “clean up” his left knee.
“I didn't need to do any rehab, just the bicycle. It was very minor, the clean-up that I had,” Ortiz said. “The doctor told me, 'Just rest and do bicycle and you'll be ready to go.' I've been cleared [to ride] for over a week. I was cleared Dec. 14, but I wanted to wait until I was 100 percent, and now I'm 100 percent.”
Ortiz has established himself as a leading Eclipse Award candidate during the first 11 months of 2017, accumulating a nation-best $27 million in purses-won. He. has won 13 Grade 1 races, including the Belmont Stakes aboard Tapwrit and the Breeders' Cup Juvenile on Good Magic. Ortiz won't have to travel far to attend the Eclipse Awards, which will be held in Gulfstream's Sport of King's Theater Jan. 25.
“I've had a great year – $27 million, 13 Grade 1s, a Breeders' Cup victory, the Belmont Stakes. Hopefully, we get it,” Ortiz said. “But at the end of the day, it's tough.”
Ortiz, who led the nation in 2016 with 351 wins, is the younger brother of Irad Ortiz Jr., who has ridden the winners of 314 races and $22.8 million in purses this year. The Puerto Rico native has been riding in the U.S. since March 2012, scoring more than 200 wins each of the past five years.
The eight-time New York riding titlist made a strong impression during the 2016-2017 Championship Meet, leading all jockeys with $3.77 million in purses-won except for Mike Smith, who won the inaugural Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1) aboard Arrogate, who earned a $7 million payday. He scored graded-stakes wins aboard Celestine in the Honey Fox (G2), Suffused in the La Prevoyante (G3) and the The Very One (G3) and Unified in the Gulfstream Park Sprint (G3). He also rode Shaman Ghost to a second-place finish behind Arrogate in the Pegasus World Cup.
“I was lucky here last year. I wish I could have been riding [this year] from the beginning,” Ortiz said. “I have a lot of people supporting me, so I hope to have a big meet. Hopefully, next year I can ride a full meet.”
Ortiz has seven scheduled mounts on Saturday's 11-race program and will ride in all five stakes race. He is slated to ride Infinite Wisdom in the $100,000 H Allen Jerkens, Jaunt in the first division of the $75,000 Tropical Park Oaks and I'm Betty G in the second division, Gorgeous Kitten in the $75,000 Tropical Park Derby and Daring Duchess in the $75,000 Via Borghese.
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