Irad Ortiz Jr. edges brother; Pletcher wins 14th Spa title

Irad Ortiz, right, the 2020 Saratoga riding champ, shares the moment with his brother Jose, left, and Angel Cordero.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Irad Ortiz, right, the 2020 Saratoga riding champ, shares the moment with his brother Jose, left, and Angel Cordero.

Categories: Sports

SARATOGA SPRINGS — It looked like the brothers would be trading punches all day.

Then after an early flurry, they whiffed the rest of the way, leaving Irad Ortiz Jr. still standing with his third riding championship at Saratoga Race Course by the slimmest of margins on closing day of the 152nd meet on Monday.

He and brother Jose Ortiz, who has won the other three Spa titles not won by Irad in the last six years, came into the last card tied with 57 winners apiece.

Irad went up by two aboard Editor At Large in the third race, Jose answered on Road to Meath in the fourth and Irad won on Per Capita in the fifth of 14 races.

Needing a win in the 14th to get a share of the championship named after Angel Cordero Jr., Jose finished fourth on Mohjestic.

“Yeah, it’s fun,” Irad said. “I’m happy for him. We have fun, and we’re blessed with a lot of good things, so we enjoy the moment. We’re going through a lot of things in 2020, but the hard work pays off.

“It’s very special, and I got great support from the trainers and owners. I got injured and missed three days, and they still named me on [horses]. They still gave me the confidence and the opportunity.”

Ortiz hurt his wrist when his mount in the last race on the Aug. 26 card banged into the starting gate, and he did not ride for the next three days.

At the time of the injury, he was up by three on Jose and when he came back on Day 34, he was down three. He got hot right away and was back ahead by two on Day 35, with six cards left. On Sunday, Jose won the first three races and outscored his brother 4-2 on the day to create a tie going into closing day.

“We have fun,” Irad said. “He wants the best for me, and I want the best for him.”

Meanwhile, the race for the trainer championship, named after the late Hall of Famer Allen Jerkens, was over early.

Todd Pletcher came into closing day with a 31-26 lead over Chad Brown and clinched it when Brown failed to win the Lure Stakes in the eighth race, leaving him down four with entries in only three remaining races.

It was Pletcher’s 14th Spa title and first since 2017. Brown has won it three of the last five years.

“It’s great, very rewarding for the whole team,” Pletcher said. “We had a lot of people put a lot of hard work into it, and, yeah … it’s very satisfying. The horses were running well, but I didn’t anticipate that having as good a meet as we did. I didn’t think we’d have as many babies ready.

“It’s always more special here. Angel Cordero was the one who made it mean something. He always fought really hard, so he’s been texting me the last couple days because he won 14, so it’s kind of cool for me to tie him. A friend of mine told me a couple weeks ago, ‘I bet on you to win it at 9-1,’ and I said, ‘I don’t think that was a good enough price.’ Coming in, we didn’t feel we had the ammo to do it, then a coupe weeks in, it seemed like things were jelling.

Pletcher had four stakes wins, including the Grade I Fourstardave with Halladay.

Jockey Joel Rosario and trainer Christophe Clement combined to win 15 races and were a force as a team for the first half of the meet.

On consecutive days during the first weekend of the meet, they swept the Grade II National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame and the Grade II Lake Placid, with Decorated Invader and Speaktomeofsummer, respectively.

Rosario was a force by himself throughout the meet, finishing with a whopping 13 stakes victories, after Monday’s Grade I Hopeful aboard Jackie’s Warrior.

Besides the Hopeful, NMRHOF and Lake Placid, his graded stakes wins included the Grade II Glens Falls with Civil Union, the Grade III Shuvee (Letruska), the Grade II Amsterdam (Yaupon) and the Grade II Saratoga Special (Jackie’s Warrior).

Clement, who has been a regular presence at Saratoga since 1992, had his best meet ever, with 20 total wins. His previous best was 15, in 2015.

HANDLE STRONG AGAIN

For the second year in a row, the Saratoga meet generated all-sources betting handle in excess of $700 million ($702,535,468). The 2019 total of $705,343,949 was the first time Saratoga hit the $700 million mark.

Average daily handle for the 40-day meet was $17,563,387. The 2019 meet, which was run across 39 days due to the cancellation of a full card due to weather, generated an average daily handle of $18,085,742.

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