When jockey Jose Ortiz purchased land in Ocala, Florida in 2018, it was partly done with an eye toward the distant future. Those 20 acres in the heart of Florida horse country would someday be the young rider’s landing place in retirement.
Near term, Ortiz, 26, planned on visiting his farm whenever he could to check on the retired Thoroughbreds he and his wife, Taylor, keep there. In reality, that meant Ortiz wouldn’t be there all that often.
But we have a new reality now. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Ortiz has found the land to be an oasis and healing place, both physically and mentally, during these uncertain times. Ortiz hasn’t ridden in a race since March 18th and has been in Ocala ever since.
Jose fractured his right wrist February 22nd in a post parade accident at Gulfstream Park and was sidelined until March 14th. After three days of competing, however, Ortiz’s wrist began nagging him, and he decided it needed more time to heal.
This decision came at the same time COVID-19 began its rage in the United States, and Ortiz thought it was best for him and Taylor and their two young children, Leilani and Derek Jose, to head to the quiet environs of Ocala.
If these were normal times, Ortiz would just be finishing up the spring meet at Keeneland Park and then moving his tack to New York for the spring races at Belmont Park. But the Keeneland meet was canceled, and Belmont is delayed- opening on a date yet to be determined. So Ortiz is enjoying his new role as a gentleman farmer.
“I do whatever I have to do on the farm. Cut the grass, plant some oak trees, fix fences,” Ortiz said in a phone interview a few days ago. “I’m outside all the time, and I’m really enjoying it. We’re also working on getting the permits we need to build our house on this land.”
Ortiz, the 2017 Eclipse Award-Winning rider, is also using this time to prepare for a return to riding. He said he could return at Churchill Downs or Belmont Park, depending upon which track opens first.
Ortiz said he hasn’t been watching racing, (several tracks around the country, including Gulfstream Park, have continued to conduct spectator-free cards during the pandemic) in part because he’s been so busy on the farm.
But perhaps the real reason has more to do with self-preservation, because viewing something from the sidelines that has given you so much joy and countless successes can’t be easy for an athlete.
“Honestly, I think if I watched, it would just make me want to get back quicker,” he admitted.
But as precious as riding is to Ortiz, he has discovered positives connected to his time out of the saddle.
“I’ve been riding since (I was) 16, for 10 years straight, and I’ve taken no breaks. I’m enjoying this time,” Ortiz said as happy shrieks from his eldest child, 2-year-old Leilani, are heard in the background.
“I’m having fun with the kids, just getting to know them better and spending time with them. It’s been fun, honestly. I probably won’t get time like this with them again until I retire. I’m trying to make the best of it, like all of us.”
Great attitude Jose !