Following 24 stakes at five different tracks that saw nearly $5 million in purse money given out, some new names stand atop the final standings at the completion of the 2018 Penn Gaming Racing Challenge as jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr. claimed the title as the top rider in the series for the first time. Ortiz’s 73 points were good enough to best runner-up Tyler Gaffalione by 11.
While his only two wins in the series came on Charles Town Classic day aboard Shaft of Light in the Russell Road Stakes and Midnight Poker in the Robert Hilton Memorial, Ortiz was a frequent guest at both Charles Town and Penn National this year notching a second place finish on Thewayiam in the $200,000 Penn Oaks and third place finish with Sower in the $300,000 Charles Town Oaks (G3) among his other mounts.
Gaffalione edged out Ricardo Santana, Jr. by 2 points for the second slot.
Trainer Steve Asmussen captured his first title as leading trainer in the Penn Gaming Challenge series on the back of his strong showing at Zia Park’s Land of Enchantment Day on Thanksgiving Eve. Brittlyn Stable Inc.’s Forevamo gave Asmussen his lone winner on the card when he took the top prize in the $150,000 Zia Park Championship but the Hall of Fame conditioner saddled eight horses in total including Combatant who checked in third in the $250,000 Zia Park Derby and She’s a Julie who ran fourth in the $250,000 Zia Park Oaks as the odds-on favorite.
Asmussen’s 78 points were enough to land him the top spot over past series winner Mike Maker by a comfortable margin. Maker had previously sent out John Connally Turf Cup (G3) winner Bigger Picture and Frontier Utilities Turf Sprint victor Hogy at Sam Houston earlier in the year. After Maker, it was 14 points back to Jason Servis in third place.