Down the stretch they came, and Tapwrit was running right behind Irish War Cry in the 149th running of the Belmont Stakes. But Jose Ortiz went to the whip and pushed Tapwrit hard.
The 23-year-old native of Puerto Rico saw his horse respond. Tapwrit passed the favorite in the final furlong and crossed the finish line ahead by two lengths Saturday at Belmont Park. Ortiz owned his first Triple Crown win.
The jockey’s older brother, Irad Jr., was in the race as well, on the back of Lookin At Lee. He finished seventh.
Last year, Jose was on the back of Forever d’Oro and came in 13th. Irad, meanwhile, rode Creator, pushing him to overtake Destin by a nose. It marked Irad’s first Triple Crown win.
So now there are a matching set of Ortiz brothers with Belmont Stakes victories, winners for two years running.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling that I can’t explain,” Jose Ortiz said. “I’m very happy right now. I’m happy for the owners and for Todd [Pletcher] for giving me the opportunity.”
Tapwrit started from post position two to defeat 10 rivals over the mile and a half course. His winning time was 2:30.02.
“The distance, I was sure he could handle,” Ortiz said. “It was a great training job by Todd.”
Ortiz had ridden Tapwrit to a disappointing fifth-place finish in the Blue Grass at Keeneland, finishing 11 1⁄2 lengths back as the 2-1 favorite. Then came a sixth-place finish at the Kentucky Derby.
Pletcher, though, has been enthused with Ortiz’s work.
“I don’t think that it’s been any secret that Jose has been a rising star for the last few years,” Pletcher said. “He’s just a phenomenal rider.
“But the one thing that I think he suits our style of training and he suits Tapwrit is he’s a pretty aggressive rider. He’s good from the gate. He’s good at getting horses in position. Generally, that’s the way most of our horses run. They want to be in a tactical position.
“He remained very confident in the horse even after the Blue Grass and after the tough trip in the Derby. We felt that he’d done everything right on the horse and he deserved to stay with him. And he could not have ridden him any better today.”
Ortiz started his career in Puerto Rico in 2012. Soon he was racing in New York. He often gets to go against his brother.
Last year, Jose rode more winners (316) than any other jockey on the NYRA circuit. He claimed the Saratoga title as well as three other meet titles. He was also a finalist for an Eclipse Award.
This was his third time in the Belmont Stakes. Besides last year’s race, he finished sixth aboard Samraat in 2014. Now he won’t ever forget Tapwrit.
“I always liked him and we always had a lot of faith in him,” Ortiz said. “Today he showed up. I’m very happy.”