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Apr 25, 2018
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Mike Venezia Memorial Award Voting to Open on Friday, April 27

by Najja Thompson



Venezia Award to be presented at Belmont Park on May 28

The New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA) today announced that online voting to select the 2018 Mike Venezia Memorial Award will open on Friday, April 27.  This year, racing fans will choose among a distinguished group of finalists including Javier Castellano, Joe Bravo, Irad Ortiz, Jr., Jose Ortiz, and Manny Franco.

Created in 1989, the Mike Venezia Memorial Award is given to jockeys who display the extraordinary sportsmanship and citizenship that defined Venezia, who died as the result of injuries he suffered in a spill in 1988. Venezia, a native of Brooklyn, N.Y., won more than 2,300 races during his 25-year career.

Fans can make their selection at NYRA.com/Venezia with the online voting period to conclude on Tuesday, May 15. The winner will be announced on Wednesday, May 16 and the Mike Venezia Memorial Award will be presented in a special ceremony at Belmont Park on Monday, May 28.

Created in 1989, the Mike Venezia Memorial Award is given to jockeys who display the extraordinary sportsmanship and citizenship that defined Venezia, who died as the result of injuries he suffered in a spill in 1988. Venezia, a native of Brooklyn, N.Y., won more than 2,300 races during his 25-year career.

Each of this year’s finalists is an accomplished athlete whose aptitude and dedication on the track is rivaled only by the respect they garner off it.

  • Castellano, who was inducted to the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame in 2017, won four consecutive Eclipse Awards as Outstanding Jockey from 2013 - 16. Winner of 12 riding titles on the New York Racing Association circuit, he is routinely among the top riders the nation in earnings, registering more than $25 million in 2017. Among his major victories last year was Cloud Computing’s Classic victory in the Grade 1 Preakness Stakes, as well as wins aboard Rushing Fall in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf, Sharp Azteca in the Grade I Cigar Mile Handicap, and New Money Honey in the Grade 1 Belmont Oaks Invitational. 
  • Bravo, who amassed more than $5.4 million in purses in 2017, earned Grade 1 victories aboard Bigger Picture in the United Nations and Zipessa in the First Lady. He also piloted multiple graded stakes winners Avery Island in the Grade 2 Nashua in New York and Can’thelpbelieving in the Grade 2 Sky Classic at Woodbine.
  • Irad Ortiz, Jr., has quickly emerged as one of the top riders in the country. Since first arriving in New York from Trujillo Alto, Puerto Rico in 2011, the 25-year-old has won 12 individual riding meet honors on the NYRA circuit. In 2017, his earnings totaled over $22.9 million. His major victories included piloting Bar of Gold to victory in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint, Diversify in the Grade 1, Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont, and champion turf female Lady Eli to wins in Grade 1 Diana and Grade 2 Woodford Reserve Ballston Spa at Saratoga Race Course. He is also the older brother of fellow Venezia award finalist Jose Ortiz.
  • Jose Ortiz, younger brother of Irad Ortiz, Jr., had a banner year in 2017. The 24-year-old, led all riders in earnings for North America last year amassing over $27.3 million. This past January, he won the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Jockey after being nominated as a finalist for the second consecutive year. His highlights this past year included earning his first Classic win aboard Tapwrit in the Belmont Stakes, as well as major victories aboard Good Magic in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and Elate in the Grade 1 Alabama.
  • Franco, a native of Carolina, Puerto Rico, began riding after being introduced to the sport by his father and attending jockey school in Puerto Rico. Since his arrival to New York in 2013, Franco has quickly shown his talent becoming one of the most respected riders on the circuit. In 2017, he garnered over $12.6 million in earnings and achieved major wins aboard champion turf winner World Approval in the Grade 1 Fourstardave Handicap, and won the Aqueduct winter meet riding title for his first New York riding crown in 2018.

The first Venezia Award was awarded posthumously to Venezia in 1989. Previous winners of the award include Kendrick Carmouche (2017), Mario Pino (2016), Jon Court (2015), Hall of Famer John Velazquez (2014) and newly minted Hall of Famer Ramon Dominguez (2013).


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