2022 Kentucky Derby jockey profile: Irad Ortiz Jr.

Profile Picture: J. Keeler Johnson

April 30th, 2022

Who is Irad Ortiz Jr.?

There’s a reason why Irad Ortiz has won three Eclipse Awards for outstanding jockey. Simply put… he’s an outstanding jockey.

The raw statistics paint a vivid picture of Ortiz’s dominance. It’s hard to believe the 29-year-old from Puerto Rico has only been riding since 2011, first in his homeland and shortly thereafter on the U.S. mainland. His career has already produced an extraordinary array of highlights. 225 graded stakes wins… 66 Grade 1 wins… 14 Breeders’ Cup triumphs… a victory in the Belmont S. (G1)… more than $20 million in earnings every year since 2014… at least 300 winners every year since 2015…

Indeed, Ortiz has led the nation by earnings in three of the last four years, and by wins every year since 2017. He’s guided several champions to career-defining victories, including Horse of the Year Bricks and Mortar. In 2019, Ortiz became the first rider to win more than $30 million in a single year, pushing his final tally to $34,109,019.

One by one, Ortiz is adding North America’s richest races to his roster of major wins. The Kentucky Derby (G1) has proven elusive; Ortiz hasn’t cracked the trifecta from five rides in the Run for the Roses. But Ortiz will partner in the 2022 Kentucky Derby with Wood Memorial S. (G2) winner Mo Donegal, an accomplished colt with a strong chance to challenge on the first Saturday in May.

Ortiz is widely praised for his skill riding turf horses, but since the Kentucky Derby takes place on dirt, let’s review Ortiz’s record from 2017 onward in non-turf races at tracks that host multiple Road to the Kentucky Derby prep races:

All stats from Jan. 1, 2017 through April 24, 2022. Generated by STATSMASTER, Powered by TrackMaster, an Equibase Company.

Lifetime record over 1 1/4 miles on dirt:
Starts Wins Win % ROI %
68 11 16% -43%

Lifetime record stats compiled by Nazrana Dixon.

Lifetime record in the Kentucky Derby:      
Starts Wins Places Shows Win % ITM % ROI %
5 0 0 0 0% 0% -100%

Ortiz at Aqueduct

The more races a jockey rides, the harder it is to maintain a lofty win percentage. Yet Ortiz has managed to win 197 of his 754 rides at Aqueduct since 2017, producing a stellar 26% win rate. Winner of seven meet titles at Aqueduct since 2012, Ortiz has won a bevy of stakes at Aqueduct, including the 2016 Gotham (G3) on the Road to the Kentucky Derby. But Ortiz elevated his game to an even higher level in 2021 (his most recent year riding at Aqueduct), going 22-for-60 (37%) while winning six graded stakes, including the Carter H. (G1), Remsen S. (G2), and Demoiselle S. (G2).

Ortiz at Churchill Downs

Ortiz’s win rate over the Churchill Downs main track is a bit lower than one might expect, coming in at 15% from 52 rides. But that may explained by the fact Ortiz tends to ride Churchill only on big days, when the competition is tougher. At the 2018 Breeders’ Cup, Ortiz guided 25-1 longshot Shamrock Rose to an upset victory in the Filly & Mare Sprint (G1) before tackling the Kentucky Derby distance in the Classic (G1), where he rode 30-1 shot Gunnevera to a game runner-up effort. Betting all of Ortiz’s dirt mounts during this timeframe would have produced a solid 13% profit.

Still, it’s worth noting Ortiz has fared better over the Churchill Downs turf course, where he wins at a 23% rate.

Ortiz at Fair Grounds

Although Ortiz has gone 4-for-7 (57%) over the Fair Grounds turf course since 2017, he hasn’t enjoyed the same level of success riding the main track, compiling a 1-for-8 (13%) resume. His lone victory came in a 1 1/16-mile maiden special weight, though on the bright side, 63% of Ortiz’s dirt mounts have finished in the money.

Ortiz at Gulfstream Park

With a 281-for-1,097 (26%) record over the main track since 2017, Ortiz has been a force to reckon with at Gulfstream Park. He’s won more races than any other rider at three of the last four Championship Meets, most notably guiding Mucho Gusto (2020) and Life Is Good (2022) to dominant victories in the Pegasus World Cup (G1). In 2021, Ortiz picked up his first Florida Derby (G1) win aboard stretch-running Known Agenda.

Ortiz at Keeneland

Although Ortiz wins at just a 14% rate over the Keeneland main track, his 16 victories since 2017 include a few lucrative prizes. At the 2020 Breeders’ Cup, Ortiz executed a perfect ground-saving ride aboard Whitmore to upset the Sprint (G1) at odds of 18-1, after which he guided Improbable to a runner-up effort in the 1 1/4-mile Classic (G1). More recently, Ortiz has won the 2021 Spinster S. (G1) aboard champion Letruska and the 2022 Ashland S. (G1) aboard Kentucky Oaks (G1) contender Nest.

Ortiz at Oaklawn Park

Did you know betting all of Ortiz’s mounts at Oaklawn since 2017 would have produced an impressive 86% profit? Ortiz has gone 4-for-15 (27%) over the Arkansas oval, with 60% of his mounts finishing in the money. His biggest victory came in the 2021 Apple Blossom H. (G1), when he perfectly rationed the front-running speed of Letruska to defeat two-time champion Monomoy Girl by a nose.

Ortiz at Santa Anita

Ortiz typically makes it out to Santa Anita at least once a year, and with excellent results. His 5-for-22 (23%) record over the main track since 2017 is highlighted by victories in the 2019 Breeders’ Cup Classic aboard Vino Rosso and the 2019 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) aboard Spun to Run.

On a related note, the Classic marks the most prestigious victory from Ortiz’s excellent 11-for-68 (16%) record riding 1 1/4 miles on dirt, the conditions of the Kentucky Derby.

Ortiz at Tampa Bay Downs

Ortiz’s occasional trips to Tampa Bay Downs have been lucrative, both for himself and for bettors. Ortiz’s lofty 8-for-17 (47%) record over the main track is terrific and includes victories aboard Classic Causeway in the Sam F. Davis S. (G3) and Tampa Bay Derby (G2) on the Road to the Kentucky Derby.

Ortiz at Turfway Park

It’s obvious Ortiz has discovered the secret to success over the synthetic Tapeta track at Turfway. His excellent 3-for-8 (38%) record includes a victory aboard Field Pass in the 2020 Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3) on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, and betting all of Ortiz’s mounts would have produced a 90% profit.