Irad Ortiz Jr. closing gap on Saez in Spa jockey title race

Irad Ortiz, Jr. walks into the paddock before riding Happy Saver in the Jockey Club Gold Cup on Saturday. He finished second, but Ortiz had three winners on the card.
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Irad Ortiz, Jr. walks into the paddock before riding Happy Saver in the Jockey Club Gold Cup on Saturday. He finished second, but Ortiz had three winners on the card.

SARATOGA SPRINGS — The sun is going down sooner, but diminishing daylight does not mean that Luis Saez has put the Saratoga Race Course riding title to bed just yet.

Instead, Irad Ortiz Jr. lurks within striking distance of what had been a substantial lead for Saez heading into the final week of the meet.

Shooting for his first-ever Saratoga championship, Saez was up by 13, 58-45, after last Sunday’s card.

This week, Ortiz, who won three races on Saturday, has pulled within 60-54 with plenty of opportunities to further chip away despite the fact that there are just two more racing days.

“We’ll keep trying until the end. You don’t want to give up,” Ortiz said after he rode Public Sector to victory in the Grade III Saranac.

Saez is named on a mount in all 24 of the remaining races, and Ortiz is named on 21, but appears to be on more live shots, based on the morning-line odds.

Throwing out a 20-1 long shot Ortiz has in the 11th race on Sunday, the average odds for the 20 other horses he is scheduled to ride are 3.17-1, compared to 5.19-1 for Saez’s 24 mounts.

Ortiz and his brother Jose have each won three of the last six Spa titles.

Irad has won nine races in the four racing days since Wednesday, and Saez has won just two, both on Thursday.

Jose Ortiz had three winners on Saturday and is in third place with 49.

JCGC UNDERCARD STAKES

Besides the Grade I Jockey Club Gold Cup and Grade I Flower Bowl on Saturday’s card, Cilla won the Grade II Prioress by a half-length over 4-5 betting favorite Souper Sensational, and the Chad Brown-trained Public Sector won the Grade III Saranac by a length as the 6-5 favorite.

Cilla’s victory, with Tyler Gaffalione in the saddle, was official after a short steward’s inquiry and claim of foul by Souper Sensational’s jockey, Ricardo Santana Jr., for a brushing incident between the two horses at the eighth pole.

“That’s not the way you want to do things,” Gaffalione said. “You want to ride a clean race and keep a straight path. Unfortunately, my filly was just getting a little bit tired and every time I asked her she wanted to come out a little bit. But we never crossed that line and I was pretty confident that we were going to stay up. I’m just thankful for this opportunity.”

Public Sector’s victory gave him a sweep of the Saratoga graded stakes for 3-year-olds on the turf, to go with his win in the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.

“What we’re seeing with him and a lot of horses like him is as he matures, he should be able to stretch out a little bit [in distance],” trainer Chad Brown said. “He certainly looked good doing this, and I certainly wouldn’t be afraid of a mile and an eighth in the Hollywood Derby. For this year, that’s as far as I’ll run him. Then down the road, we’ll see.”

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