The rain was falling lightly over Saratoga Race Course late morning on Sept. 5, the final day of the 40-day meet. But it was all smiles, sunshine, and rainbows for Irad Ortiz Jr. as he walked into the jockey’s quarters.
The 30-year-old jockey was heading into the final 12 races of the summer already knowing he had clinched the coveted Spa riding title for the fourth time in his career. Actually, it has been a foregone conclusion for quite awhile, as Ortiz has been atop the standings for most of the season.
He ended up with 55 wins, 15 more than defending champion Luis Saez, who had 40.
Flavien Prat, who was riding his first Saratoga meet after relocating from California, had four wins on closing day to tie Saez. Joel Rosario, who rode at Kentucky Downs Monday, ended with 39 wins.
“This means a lot,” Ortiz said. “Everyone wants to win any meet, but this one is very important for all of us. It is one of the biggest things you can do in your career.”
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Ortiz was the pilot of two of the blockbuster stars of the Saratoga meet in Life Is Good winner of the $1 million Whitney Stakes (G1) and Nest , who captured the $600,000 Alabama (G1) and $500,000 Coaching Club American Oaks (G1). He put the proverbial cherry on the top of his meet when he won the $300,000 Hopeful Stakes (G1) with Forte on Monday.
Ortiz also won the title in 2020, 2018, and 2015.
“This is a short meet and there are a lot of good riders here,” Ortiz said. “You have to enjoy the moment, It doesn’t happen every year.”
Ortiz thanked everyone who he felt got him to this championship. His agent, Steve Rushing, the owners and trainers, and of course, the horses, everyone that gave him the opportunity to get to the winner’s circle.
There was also a shoutout to his family, which includes brother Jose, who has won three riding titles, the most recent in 2019. He finished fifth with 36 wins after a three-win day on Monday.
“I am happy for him,” Jose Ortiz said about his brother. “He deserves it. He works hard. I’m happy the way I ended up after a slow start.”
Chad Brown claimed his fifth training title and fourth in the last five years as he ended with 42 wins, five more than Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher, who had 38 victories.
“Overall, it has been a really strong meet,” Brown said outside his barn at the Oklahoma Training Track. “I am really proud of the horses and my staff. They did a great job. We won a lot of races, and we won a lot of big ones, which really made the meet.”
Chad Brown (right) and Seth Klarman (blue jacket) secured spots atop the 2022 leaderboard at Saratoga
Brown’s grade 1 wins included the $500,000 Diana Stakes (G1T) with In Italian the $500,000 H. Allen Jerkens Memorial (G1) with Jack Christopher and the $00,000 Ballerina Stakes with Goodnight Olive .
Brown came into the Spa meet not knowing what to expect. He had set a record with 47 wins at the spring/summer meet at Belmont Park, but he wasn’t sure how his horses would perform at Saratoga.
He did not have to worry.
“I was quite concerned about leaving Belmont that we had fired too many bullets,” Brown said. “Coming to Saratoga is more difficult. It just shows the depth of our stable, top to bottom. I was hopeful for a good meet but completely realistic if it didn’t happen.”
Pletcher was not going to complain about his eight weeks at the Spa.
He won five grade 1 races, four of which were ridden by Ortiz: the Whitney Stakes (G1), Coaching Club American Oaks, Alabama, and Hopeful. His other grade 1, the $600,000 Personal Ensign Stakes (G1), was won by Malathaat with John Velazquez.
“I could not be more pleased,” Pletcher said. “When you win races like those, you have to be pretty happy.”
The leading owner at the meet was Seth Klarman’s Klaravich Stables. Klaravich got to the winner’s circle 16 times, two more wins than Michael Dubb, who won 14 races.