“THEY’re off!” the trackside announcer called for the tenth time that day, a Wednesday in August, at the Saratoga Race Course. Starting next to each other on the far outside of the dirt track were Irad and Jose Ortiz, two Puerto Rican jockeys, age twenty-five and twenty-four, whose rides have been electrifying New York’s racetracks in recent years.
They burst from the gate together, with Irad, who is eighteen months older, slightly ahead, and Jose on his brother’s flank. Within three strides, the pair led the field. They veered masterfully toward the rail, intimidating the other horses but not quite interfering with them.
As the horses hit top speed, about thirty-eight miles an hour, Irad, aboard a four-year-old filly named Fortunate Queen, held a two-length lead. His strategy was to get ahead, “save ground” by riding the rail, and hope to discourage Jose’s mount, a three-year-old named Fairybrook, by kicking dirt in her face.
But Jose remained close, while also wide enough of Fortunate Queen’s hindquarters to avoid getting pelted, and settled into the space between the leader and the third-place horse, Miss Pearl, which, each brother knew from his research, was the only other horse with speed.
As the brothers raced side by side, the difference in their riding posture, or purchase, was clear. Irad was perched higher on his mount, his stirrups short, and his legs looked more severely chicken-winged than Jose’s at the knee. Jose rides lower and gets more leg on the horse.
Read more about the amazing Ortiz brothers in this article from The New Yorker.
Photo: Irad Ortiz (left) and brother Jose. (New Yorker).