SARATOGA SPRINGS -- Jockey Jose Ortiz will have a decision to make.
He hopes it's as difficult as it can be.
Ortiz rode Highest Honors to victory in the $100,000 Curlin at Saratoga Race Course on Friday, putting the lightly raced son of Tapit squarely in the Travers picture for trainer Chad Brown.
Complicating things for Ortiz is that he will be riding the 7-5 morning-line favorite for Saturday's Grade II Jim Dandy, Tacitus, and depending on that outcome, he'll have to pick between Highest Honors and Tacitus.
For the time being, he's happy to be on a horse that Brown has thought highly of all along, even if Highest Honors missed all the big races during the Kentucky Derby prep season and the Triple Crown trail. The Curlin was the first stakes try for the Will Farish-owned Highest Honors, after two maiden races.
"I think he should be undefeated by now," Ortiz said. "He didn't get a good track in his debut at Keeneland, and he won the maiden after [at Belmont Park] easy. And today, he proved that he's a very nice horse. Hopefully, he moves forward. I mean, there's not much choice you've got, he's got to go to the Travers, I guess.
"He [Brown] told me the day of the maiden, 'This is my Travers horse.' And he knows what he's got. Look at the horse now."
"It's a race we've been thinking about for a long time, knowing the horse wasn't going to get on the Derby trail early," Brown told the New York Racing Association. "He had some problems as a 2-year-old, and he got started late this year. We always thought he was very talented, and the Travers was the dream."
In the Curlin, Ortiz kept Highest Honors behind a slow pace of 24.23 for the quarter-mile, 49.36 for the half and 1:14.02 for the three-quarters set by stablemate Looking At Bikinis.
Highest Honors kicked into gear on the turn and was wide heading into the stretch, but with plenty of momentum to gradually pull away from Endorsed and jockey Joe Bravo to win by a length and a half.
"On the backside, there wasn't a lot going on," Ortiz said. "Slow pace. But the track hasn't been playing fast today. Horses on the lead haven't done anything today. So I just tried to be comfortable, going a mile and an eighth for the first time, and then with a half a mile, get moving.
"I had a lot of horse when I passed the five-eighths pole, and just smooched at him a little bit with a half-mile. I went by Joe at the three-eighths pole, and he was moving beautiful."
"He made the big sweeping move, and we thought he would get a mile and an eighth in his first time going two turns, and it looked like even a little more distance won't hurt him," Brown told NYRA.
The mile-and-a-quarter Travers is an eighth of a mile longer than the Curlin and Jim Dandy, for which Highest Honors was also nominated.
As impressive as Highest Honors was in winning, Ortiz wasn't anywhere close to being in position to commit to riding him in the Travers.
"Wait 'til tomorrow [Saturday]," he said with a grin. "I'm just very happy in the moment for now, and hopefully tomorrow I win the Dandy, to be honest. Then I have a choice."
The Curlin field was reduced to six horses when long shot Cairo Cat flipped in the paddock and was scratched.
REMEMBERING JOHN CANSDALE
The second race on Saturday's card has been designated as the John Cansdale Memorial race.
Cansdale, who died on Oct. 8, 2018, at the age of 54, was the executive director of the New York State Racing Wagering Board (since renamed the NYS Gaming Commission) from 2005-08.
He was also general counsel for the Olympic Regional Development Authority in Lake Placid.
The New York Racing Association will unite with racetracks across the country as part of the Permanently Disabled Jockeys' Fund Awareness Day Across America at Saratoga.
The day's events will include a special meet-and-greet and autograph session. Riders from the Saratoga jockey colony will sign autographs on the Jockey Silks Room Porch from 11:45 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. with a suggested donation to PDJF.
Fans who donate $5 to PDJF will receive a commemorative "Riders Up!" poster, while supplies last, and will be entered to win a framed limited edition "150 Years of Racing at Saratoga" print.
The Community Outreach Booth will host PDJF in honor of the daylong celebration at Saratoga Race Course. Fans are encouraged to visit the booth, which is located on the Jockey Silks Room Porch, to learn more about the not-for-profit organization's mission to provide financial assistance to former jockeys who have suffered catastrophic on-track injuries.
The first disqualification of a winner at the meet also resulted in the first riding victory of the meet for Dylan Davis, who had been on a 0-for-34 streak before winning the 10th race on Friday's card.
His horse, Mister Bobby, and Champagne Chills, ridden by Irad Ortiz Jr., battled through the stretch, with several hip checks between the two.
Champagne Chills hit the wire inches ahead of Mister Bobby, but the stewards reversed the order, elevating Mister Bobby to first.