HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – Jockey Jose Ortiz made a triumphant return to the irons by winning Thursday’s opener at Gulfstream Park, his first mount since having minor knee surgery Dec. 3.
The nation’s leading jockey with more than $27 million in purse earnings, Ortiz guided Suzanne Stable’s 3-year-old filly Shar Ran ($6) to a front-running four-length triumph in the seven-furlong optional claiming allowance for fillies and mares 3 and up.
Ortiz inherited the mount from jockey Julien Leparoux, who returned to Kentucky for the birth of his second child. Leproux is expected to return Saturday.
“She bobbled a little bit but she was the fastest horse from the gate. Passing the chute she was on the lead without asking her for much,” Ortiz said. “She relaxed very well the whole backstretch and by the three-eighths pole I knew I had a lot of horse under me. When I asked her she responded really well. I’m very happy [trainer Mike] Tomlinson gave me the opportunity to ride her, and the owner, and she was ready. She was ready to win.”
It was the 267th win of 2017 for the 24-year-old Ortiz, whose 351 victories were tops in the country last year. He had 43 wins and nearly $3.8 million in purse earnings from just 192 mounts during last winter’s Championship Meet, and is a leading candidate for his first Eclipse Award as top jockey, to be presented at Gulfstream Park Jan. 25.
“I love it. I love to be in the winner’s circle here in Florida and to come back right away with a win is just great,” Ortiz said. “I feel very good. To be honest with you the only day off I had was the day after surgery. After that I kept exercising. I couldn’t run right away so I did a lot of cycling and I got on a couple horses but not much, really. It was a very minor clean-up that I had, so I got very lucky.”
Ortiz was winless with his other two mounts Thursday, finishing second with Musical Heart in the fifth race.