Ortiz, Brown notch respective 11-day Aqueduct spring meet titles
by Brian Bohl
A short spring slate at Aqueduct Racetrack saw familiar faces finish atop the leaderboards for the jockey and trainer standings, as Jose Ortiz outlasted his brother, Irad Ortiz, Jr., by a 24-17 win margin after the boutique 11-day meet’s finale on Sunday.
Trainer Chad Brown recorded 10 wins to pace all conditioners, while Peter Brant and Noda Brothers each compiled four wins to tie for the top owners mark.
The Ortiz brothers dominated the standings in the three-week meet, combining for 41 victories out of the 95 total races contested.
Ortiz’s winning campaign was bolstered by his April 11 effort in which he won with 5-of-6 mounts, including piloting Regal Glory to victory in the featured $100,000 Plenty of Grace. Ortiz won with his first four mounts on the day and teamed with Brown to capture the Plenty of Grace.
It marked the first meet title for Ortiz on the NYRA circuit since the 2020 Belmont Park fall meet. Ortiz, who was New York’s leading jockey for the entire 2020 campaign, compiled a record of 24-10-10 in 68 mounts and earnings of more than $1.3 million for the spring meet.
Ortiz capped the meet on a high note by winning Sunday’s $200,000 NYSSS Park Avenue aboard Shaker Shack.
“It’s a big deal,” Ortiz said. “We’re happy with where we are and it sets us up for the Belmont meet.”
Ortiz, 27, last won the Aqueduct spring meet in 2014, which was the first of his now 10 individual meet titles.
“It’s nice to win and I’m also happy for Irad; he’s had a great start of the year,” Ortiz said about finishing 1-2 with his brother. “He congratulated me earlier and said he’s proud of me, and that means a lot.”
Ortiz, Jr. posted a valiant runner-up effort despite riding at Keeneland from April 7 - 11, traveling to Churchill Downs to breeze Kentucky Derby-contender Known Agenda on April 16 and to Oaklawn Park on April 17 to pilot Letruska to victory in the Grade 1 Apple Blossom.
The 28-year-old Ortiz, Jr. won with a record-tying 6-of-11 mounts on the Wood Memorial Day card, including the meet's lone Grade 1 aboard Mischevious Alex in the $300,000 Carter Handicap along with Grade 3 scores in the $250,000 Gazelle with Kentucky Oaks-contender Search Results and with Drain the Clock in the $200,000 Bay Shore.
“It’s been more of the same from them: immense natural talent combined with tremendous work ethic,” said Brown of the Ortiz brothers’ success. “When those two things meet, you’re going to win a lot of races.”
Third-place finisher Kendrick Carmouche, who finished with 12 wins, guided the Pletcher-trained Calumet Farm homebred Bourbonic to a record 72-1 upset in the Grade 2, $750,000 Wood Memorial presented by Resorts World Casino to earn his first Kentucky Derby mount in the 100-40-20-10 point qualifying event.
Brown, a four-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer, also notched his first meet title since the Belmont fall, compiling a record of 10-4-4 with 31 starters for a 32.26 winning percentage. Brown’s horses earned $766,450. Todd Pletcher was second with six wins while Linda Rice was third with five.
Brown, who last won the Aqueduct spring meet in 2018, got off to a quick start, saddling Search Results to victory in the Grade 3, $250,000 Gazelle for sophomore fillies on Wood Memorial Day April 3. Search Results, piloted by Ortiz, Jr., earned 100 qualifying points to the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks for her 2 3/4-length effort in the 1 1/8-mile contest. It was the third time in his career Brown won the Gazelle.
“I’m very appreciative; it was a long winter just preparing for this meet,” Brown said. “Our program is tailored around NYRA, mostly, just getting the horses ready all winter. After missing a lot of last year, this year’s start has been more traditional for us. It feels good and gives us a sense of normalcy to get back on track with how we point our horses to begin their seasons in April in New York.”
The 42-year-old Brown also compiled stakes wins on back-to-back days, starting with Delaware’s triumph in the Danger’s Hour on April 10 and following with Regal Glory in the Plenty of Grace. Brown is the defending leading trainer in New York for the last six years, finishing atop the standings in every campaign since 2015.
“New York is our home base, so we try to have the horses ready to run here,” Brown said. “All the credit goes to my team for having these horses ready for this meet. I’m also thankful for our owners, who have been extremely patient. They pay a lot of bills all winter to not run much, but they trust the process of coming up to New York and running for generous purses on nice, fresh racing surfaces.”
Brant saw half of his starters earn winner’s circle trips, compiling a 4-1-2 record in eight starts with earnings of $205,950. The meet-leading troika of Brant-Brown-Ortiz made up the winning connections of Regal Glory in the Plenty of Grace. Brown trained all of Brant’s winners, including non-stakes scores with Brazillionaire, Kuramata and Flighty Lady.
Noda Brothers, comprised of trainer Orlando Noda and Jonathan Noda, went 4-0-2 in 10 starts for earnings of $111,185. Orlando Noda trained all of the partnership’s winners, with Choose Happiness, Vintage Hollywood and Daria’s Angel giving the duo three wins in three days from April 15-17 to secure a tie with Brant.
Thoroughbred action shifts to Belmont Park for the 48-day spring/summer meet that runs from Thursday, April 22 through Sunday, July 11.
The spring/summer meet will offer its highest ever overnight purse schedule supported by significant monetary increases across most race categories, including maiden special weight races featuring a purse of $90,000, while horsemen participating in the claiming ranks will compete for purse money ranging up to $100,000.
A total of 59 stakes races worth $16.95 million in purses will highlight the meet, including the Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes set for June 5.