Kentucky Derby Jockey Profile: Irad Ortiz Jr.

Profile Picture: J. Keeler Johnson

May 1st, 2021

Who is Irad Ortiz Jr.?

There’s a reason why Irad Ortiz has won three consecutive 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 28-year-old from Puerto Rico has only been riding since 2011, first in his homeland and shortly thereafter in the mainland United States. The first decade of his career produced an extraordinary array of highlights. 178 graded stakes wins… 53 Grade 1 wins… 11 Breeders’ Cup triumphs… a victory in the Belmont (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 every year since 2018, and by wins in 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 four rides in the Run for the Roses. But 2021 will mark his best chance at victory to date, as Ortiz will partner with Florida Derby (G1) winner Known Agenda, who figures to be one of the main choices in the betting.

What are Jockey Irad Ortiz Jr.'s Records related to the Kentucky Derby?

Below are statistics for Irad's efforts at racetracks with more than two Road to the Kentucky Derby prep races, plus lifetime data at the 1 1/4 mile-distance and Churchill Downs specifically.

Lifetime record over 1 1/4 miles on dirt:

Starts Wins Places Thirds
59 10 10 6
  Win % ITM % ROI %
  17% 44% -41%

Lifetime record in the Kentucky Derby:

Starts Wins Places Thirds
4 0 0 0
  Win % ITM % ROI %
  0% 0% -100%

Lifetime record stats compiled by Ed DeRosa and are through 2020.

All stats from Jan. 1, 2016 through April 20, 2021. Generated by STATSMASTER, Powered by TrackMaster, an Equibase Company

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 2016 onward in non-turf races at tracks that host multiple Road to the Kentucky Derby prep races:

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 309 of his 1,187 rides at Aqueduct since 2016, producing a stellar 26% win rate. Winner of seven meet titles at Aqueduct since 2012, Ortiz has won a bevy of stakes there, including the 2016 Gotham (G3) on the Road to the Kentucky Derby. But Ortiz elevated his game to an even higher level at the recently concluded spring meet, going 11-for-26 (42%) over the main track while adding the Carter H. (G1) and Gazelle (G3) to his graded stakes tally.

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 13% from 40 rides. But that may be 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.

Still, it’s worth noting Ortiz has fared better over the Churchill Downs turf course, where he strikes at a 19% rate.

Ortiz at Fair Grounds

Although Ortiz has gone 4-for-7 (57%) over the Fair Grounds turf course since 2016, 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 251-for-1,015 (25%) record over the main track since 2016, Ortiz has been a force to reckon with at Gulfstream Park. He’s won more races than any other rider at the last three Championship Meets, most notably guiding Mucho Gusto to a dominant victory in the 2020 Pegasus World Cup (G1). In 2021, Ortiz picked up his first Florida Derby win aboard stretch-running Known Agenda, and Ortiz will reunite with the chestnut colt on Kentucky Derby Day.

Ortiz at Keeneland

Although Ortiz wins at just a 15% rate over the Keeneland main track, his 10 victories since 2016 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.

Ortiz at Oaklawn Park

Did you know betting all of Ortiz’s mounts at Oaklawn since 2016 would have produced a 30% profit? Ortiz has gone 5-for-24 (21%) over the Arkansas oval, with 54% of his mounts finishing in the money. His biggest victory came earlier this spring in the Apple Blossom H. (G1), when he perfectly rationed the frontrunning 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-24 (21%) record over the main track since 2016 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 59-10-10-6 (17%) record riding 1 1/4 miles on dirt, the conditions of the Kentucky Derby.

Ortiz at Tampa Bay Downs

Ortiz has made only two trips to Tampa in the last five years, but his 2-for-7 (29%) record over the main track is solid, highlighted by a decisive victory aboard War Story in the 2018 Challenger S.

Ortiz at Turfway Park

It’s obvious Ortiz has discovered the secret to success over the synthetic track at Turfway. Just like at Tampa, Ortiz has made two trips to Turfway since 2016, and his phenomenal 5-for-10 (50%) record includes a victory aboard Field Pass in the 2020 Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3). Betting all of Ortiz’s mounts would have produced a profit of 76%.