The World’s Best Riders

Given the immense talent and extraordinary depth of the star-studded jockey colony competing at Saratoga this year, an interesting question arises.

Where does this group rank among the greatest of all time?

The talent begins with Irad Ortiz Jr. but hardly ends there. Ortiz swept three consecutive Eclipse Awards as North America’s leading rider from 2018 to 2020, a stretch matched only by Jerry Bailey, Ramon Dominguez and Javier Castellano since the awards were established in 1971.

Irad, prior to Saratoga, topped the standings for Belmont’s spring-summer meet for his 19th New York Racing Association title. He registered 48 Wins, one more than up-and-coming Dylan Davis.

Joel Rosario, 37, was chasing the record for earnings, Stakes and Graded-Stakes Wins before he fractured a rib on December 2nd. He still managed to snap Ortiz’s Eclipse streak by Winning his first such award.

Flavien Prat, who turned 30 on August 4th, looks to follow that lead after joining Ortiz as an Eclipse finalist in 2021. He moved his tack to New York not long ago after dominating on the West Coast.

Prat is among the prime contenders to topple Luis Saez, whose 64 Victories allowed him to prevail at last summer’s 40-day Saratoga meet.

Jose Ortiz, a year younger than Irad at 28, began a string of Eclipse Awards for the family when he won in 2017. The fiercely competitive brothers accounted for the final two legs of this year’s Triple Crown series, with Jose delivering a masterful ride aboard EARLY VOTING in the Preakness, then Irad closed with a perfectly timed rush aboard MO DONEGAL in the Belmont.

When asked how this jockey colony should be viewed, Jose replied, “Back in the day, we had some good jockeys here, too. I wouldn’t say best ever. But in the country right now, for sure.”

The jockey room also features John Velazquez, 50, the all-time leader with more than $453 million in earnings. Javier Castellano, 44, is another formidable veteran.

Rising star Tyler Gaffalione ships in after securing his eighth Churchill Downs riding title. While Ricardo Santana Jr. who topped Oaklawn Park’s standings every year from 2013 to 2018, is summering at The Spa as well.

Asked about this talented group, Johnny V channeled Frank Sinatra when he replied, “If you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere.”

The intense competition is part of what convinced Prat to make the dramatic move of shifting coasts. “When you ride against good riders,” he said, “you step up your game.”

Prat’s addition elevated the colony in a big way. “Obviously, it makes it a lot tougher for everybody,” Velazquez said. “He’s a great rider. Very patient. He ran ride dirt, grass, in front, from behind, from everywhere.”

Davis recognizes that, race after race, the margin for error is slim to none. “You are just trying to ride a perfect race all the time,” he said. “Sometimes it’s hard to when you’re working with animals.”

Just another great feature of Saratoga; fans get to see the greatest athletes (two and four-legged) of their sport compete against one another in one of the greatest venues of all time.

With the abyss of brilliance this group of NYRA riders has this season, it would be difficult not to rate them (top to bottom) as one of the best all-time.

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