Two-time Eclipse Award-winning jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. became the latest high-profile jockey testing positive for COVID-19. As a result, Ortiz goes back on the shelf for at least 10 days.
The Daily Racing Form reported that Ortiz took the test Monday at his current Saratoga Springs, New York, residence. His agent, Steve Rushing, told the DRF that the positive test came back Tuesday and that Ortiz is asymptomatic.
Ortiz has been on the shelf since Sept. 16 when he rode at Kentucky Downs. The New York Racing Association suspended Ortiz for 10 days, the byproduct of a couple of careless riding infractions he committed in July. That suspension began Sept. 18 and was set to end Saturday.
Instead, the earliest Ortiz can return is Oct. 8, after his isolation period ends. If he remains asymptomatic, Ortiz requires a letter from the Saratoga County Department of Health clearing him to return to the NYRA jockey colony at Belmont Park.
Returning Means Mandatory Testing
The COVID-19 test was a condition of Ortiz returning to the saddle for Belmont Park’s fall meet. Ortiz won the Belmont Park fall riding title five times. He hasn’t ridden in New York since Sept. 7 – Saratoga’s closing day.
Ortiz had plenty of company on the positive test front among his fellow top-level jockeys. Already this year, the likes of Javier Castellano, Flavien Prat, Florent Geroux, Victor Espinoza, and Luis Saez racked up positive tests. Most of those came this summer after a COVID-19 outbreak at Los Alamitos in Southern California spread from coast to coast via traveling jockeys.
That prompted Saratoga in New York and Del Mar in California to seal off their rider colonies for the duration of their meets. It didn’t prevent Del Mar from canceling a weekend of mid-July races after the disease ravaged its jockey colony.
Ortiz Jumped the Curve at the Pandemic’s Outbreak
What makes this case particularly ironic is that Ortiz stopped riding in mid-March when the pandemic broke out nationwide. Citing safety concerns for himself and his family, he took five weeks off, then returned to Gulfstream Park with a vengeance. Ortiz won four races his first day back, including piloting eventual Belmont Stakes runner up Dr. Post to the Unbridled Stakes title.
The 28-year-old Ortiz, a Puerto Rico native, won the Saratoga riding title this summer. Already this year, he’s ridden 234 winners and earned $14.78 million. Both totals lead all North American jockeys and put Ortiz on the path for an Eclipse Award three-peat.