2022 Kentucky Derby jockey profile: Jose Ortiz

Profile Picture: J. Keeler Johnson

April 30th, 2022

Who is Jose Ortiz?

If you’re looking for a jockey with a strong but unheralded record riding 1 1/4 miles on dirt—the conditions of the legendary Kentucky Derby (G1)—look no further than Jose Ortiz. His rock-solid 10-for-53 (19%) resume is dotted with graded stakes triumphs, including three renewals of the Alabama S. (G1).

The younger brother of three-time Eclipse Award-winning jockey Irad Ortiz, 28-year-old Jose Ortiz has carved out a lucrative career of his own. The Puerto Rican native won his first race in 2012 and has been a force to reckon with ever since. Indeed, Ortiz has ranked among the nation’s top 10 jockeys by earnings every year since 2014, with his $27.3 million tally from 2017 topping the national charts. He also led the nation by wins in 2016, guiding 351 horses to victory.

On many fronts, Ortiz enjoyed his best year in 2017. Although he won a few more races and dollars in 2019, his 2017 tally was weightier from a class perspective. Ortiz picked up his first win in a Triple Crown race when guiding Tapwrit to victory in the Belmont S. (G1), and he also rode champion two-year-old Good Magic to an upset in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1). All told, Ortiz won 13 Grade 1 races in 2017 and earned the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Jockey.

A wrist injury (and the emergence of COVID-19) cost Ortiz several months of riding time in 2020, but he bounced back to end the year ranked seventh in the nation by earnings. He improved to fourth place at the end of 2021 and is off to another strong start in 2022, ranking fourth by earnings and fifth by wins. He’s already won 11 graded stakes this year (including two Grade 1s) and is slated to ride Fountain of Youth S. (G2) hero Simplification in the 2022 Kentucky Derby.

Like older brother Irad, Jose Ortiz has traveled around the country in recent years, riding major races at a wide variety of tracks. Some of these trips have centered around Road to the Kentucky Derby prep races, so let’s review Ortiz’s record (from 2017 onward) riding on dirt at any track hosting multiple Kentucky Derby qualifiers.

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 %
53 10 19% -18%
Lifetime record in the Kentucky Derby:      
Starts Wins Places Shows Win % ITM % ROI %
6 0 1 1 0% 33% -100%

Lifetime record stats compiled by Nazrana Dixon.

Ortiz at Aqueduct

The leading rider at four Aqueduct meets between 2014 and 2016, Ortiz has won at a solid 19% rate over the Aqueduct dirt, going 95-for-499 since 2017. His major victories over the last five years include the 2018 Cigar Mile H. (G1) aboard Patternrecognition and the 2019 Wood Memorial (G2) aboard Tacitus, while earlier successes include a sweep of the 2014 Gotham S. (G3) and Withers S. (G3) aboard Samraat, who gave Ortiz his first mount in the Kentucky Derby when finishing fifth under the Twin Spires.

The 2022 winter/spring season at Aqueduct has been especially lucrative for Ortiz. Since the start of the year, he’s gone 13-for-61 (21%) on dirt while picking up graded wins in the Withers S. (G3), Gazelle S. (G3), Bay Shore S. (G3), and Toboggan S. (G3).

Ortiz at Churchill Downs

For a jockey who doesn’t regularly ride at Churchill Downs, Ortiz has compiled a solid resume over the main track, going 25-for-129 (19%) since 2017. Easily his biggest victory came in the 2019 Kentucky Oaks (G1), when he guided 13-1 longshot Serengeti Empress to a front-running upset. But Ortiz also swept the Humana Distaff (G1) and Churchill Downs S. (G2)—a pair of important sprints—in both 2017 and 2018. For good measure, Ortiz won five graded stakes over the Churchill Downs main track in 2021, including the Clark S. (G1), Stephen Foster S. (G2), and Alysheba S. (G2) aboard Maxfield.

From six mounts in the Kentucky Derby, Ortiz has finished sixth or better on four occasions. Good Magic (second in 2018) and Tacitus (third in 2019) both managed to crack the top three, leaving a victory in the “Run for the Roses” as the only finishing position missing from Ortiz’s personal Kentucky Derby trifecta.

Ortiz at Fair Grounds

Since 2016, Ortiz has gone 2-for-24 (8%) over the Fair Grounds main track, with his victories coming in the 2018 and 2019 renewals of the Crescent City Derby. He’s also cracked the trifecta in several graded stakes, notably finishing third aboard Zandon in the 2022 Risen Star S. (G2) on the Road to the Kentucky Derby.

Ortiz at Gulfstream Park

Ortiz has ranked among the leading jockeys at Gulfstream ever since the 2016-17 Championship meet, when he first started riding the Florida track on a regular basis. An 18% winner on dirt, Ortiz has accumulated a lengthy list of graded stakes wins at Gulfstream. His highlights on the Kentucky Derby and Oaks trails include victories in the 2021 and 2022 Fountain of Youth S. (G2), the 2015 and 2021 Holy Bull S. (G3), the 2021 Gulfstream Park Oaks (G2), and the 2018 Davona Dale S. (G2).

Ortiz at Keeneland

Since 2017, Ortiz has compiled a respectable 38-for-266 (14%) record over the Keeneland main track—pretty solid for a jockey not normally based in Kentucky. As far as race grades go, Ortiz’s most prestigious victories have come in the 2017 and 2020 editions of the Madison S. (G1), along with a score in the 2019 Breeders’ Futurity (G1) on the Road to the Kentucky Derby. But arguably his most significant victory came in the 2018 Blue Grass S. (G2), when Ortiz rode champion and future Kentucky Derby runner-up Good Magic to victory over a large field.

Ortiz at Oaklawn Park

Ortiz isn’t a regular rider at Oaklawn, but his 13-for-77 (17%) resume since 2017 includes a handful of stakes wins, most notably aboard champion Letruska in the 2022 Apple Blossom H. (G1) and Quip in the 2019 Oaklawn H. (G2). Ortiz also rode Improbable to a runner-up effort in the 2019 Arkansas Derby (G1) on the Road to the Kentucky Derby.

Ortiz at Santa Anita

Although Ortiz’s 2-for-14 (14%) record over the Santa Anita main track isn’t overly eye-catching, it does include a win in the 2021 Santa Anita Mathis Mile S. (G2) plus runner-up efforts in the 2019 Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1), 2021 Malibu S. (G1), and 2021 La Brea S. (G1).

Ortiz at Tampa Bay Downs

Occasional trips to Tampa Bay Downs have proven quite lucrative for Ortiz. Although his 11% win rate over the main track isn’t anything to write home about, three of Ortiz’s victories have come in stakes, including successes in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) aboard Tapwrit (2017) and Tacitus (2019).