HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – Enjoying one of the best seasons of his highly decorated career, jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. has made his way back to South Florida with the mission of ending the year as strongly as it began.

Ortiz, 31, returns to Gulfstream Park starting Thursday to begin his riding title defense at the 2023-2024 Championship Meet, the nation’s premiere winter racing destination that began its 85-day run Dec. 1.

Ortiz will be busy in his first weekend back. He is named in seven of 10 races Thursday and Friday and nine of 11 races Saturday including Ozara for trainer Christophe Clement in the $100,000 Wait a While and Noted for Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher in the $100,000 Pulpit.

In all, Ortiz is named on 25 horses over his first three days for 17 different trainers, among them Mike Maker, Eddie Plesa Jr., Carlos David, Riley Mott, Jose D’Angelo, Joe Orseno, Chad Brown and Jane Cibelli.

“It’s great to be back. They support me a lot. I love the people. They treat me really, really good and that makes it special,” Ortiz said. “They make me feel like home. I have some trainers I ride for that are waiting for me there and that keeps me hungry. It’s exciting.”

Ortiz arrives at Gulfstream after earning his fifth Bill Shoemaker Award as top jockey at the Breeders’ Cup World Championships, raising his career total to 20 Breeders’ Cup wins following victories in the $6 million Classic (Grade 1) aboard White Abarrio, $2 million Qatar Racing Sprint (G1) on Elite Power and $1 million Filly & Mare Sprint (G1) with Goodnight Olive. All three horses will be in the mix for Eclipse Awards as divisional champions.

For his part, Ortiz is likely headed to a fifth Eclipse Award as champion jockey following wins in 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2022. According to Equibase statistics, he is approaching his career-high of 346 wins set in 2018 and has already broken his own single-season North American record for purse earnings with $37,791,462. Ortiz banked the previous mark of $37,640,792 in 2022.

Ortiz has won 337 races and his earnings are easily tops in North America. He has 65 stakes wins, 40 in graded company.

For his career, he has 3,715 wins, 596 in stakes, 304 of them graded, and more than $303.5 million in purse earnings.

“You start good [at Gulfstream] and it’s great because you start the year off on the right foot,” Ortiz said. “It’s very competitive. You have the best jockeys in the wintertime going there. It’s not easy. It’s been working out good, to be honest.”

Represented by agent Steve Rushing, Ortiz returned to the top of the Championship Meet standings last winter with 128 wins after having his three-year win streak snapped by Luis Saez in 2021-2022. Ortiz also had a meet-high $7.5 million in purse earnings, setting the stage for what has been a memorable 2023 campaign.

Ortiz won 14 stakes during the 2022-2023 meet, 10 of them graded, led by 2022 2-year-old champion Forte in the Fountain of Youth (G2) and Florida Derby; and Atone in the $1 million Pegasus Turf (G1).

Return to December 6 issue of Wire to Wire