12/01/2011 4:24PM

Aqueduct: Apprentice Ortiz a rising star among young riders

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Tom Keyser
Apprentice Irad Ortiz Jr. is off to a fast start at Aqueduct's inner-track meet.

OZONE PARK, N.Y. – Winter is usually the season for apprentice riders to shine in New York. Irad Ortiz Jr. has proven to be a rider for all seasons.

Though he will lose his apprentice status roughly halfway through the winter meet, Ortiz is still likely to be the leading bug boy at Aqueduct during the inner track season which runs through March 31. Ortiz, 19, got his winter off to a great start on Wednesday, winning three races on the card. He added two more on Thursday, guiding Quiet Favorite to victory in the fourth race and Siggi the Alien in the sixth.

Saturday, Ortiz will be in Trinidad and Tobago along with journeyman riders Corey Nakatani, Alan Garcia, Edgar Prado, and Emile Ramsammy competing in the Caribbean Nations Race Challenge at Santa Rosa Park, where $650,000 in purses will be up for grabs in an all-stakes card.

Ortiz is a native of Puerto Rico, where his grandfather was a jockey. Pito Rosa, a longtime horseman who now works as a security officer for the New York Racing Association, was close friends with Ortiz’s grandfather. He remembers bringing Ortiz to the Aqueduct jockey colony and putting him on the Equicizer when he was a toddler, believing that someday he would be a jockey.

Ortiz attended jockey school in Puerto Rico and rode at Camarero Race Track, where he won 77 races in four months. At the behest of Rosa, Ortiz came to New York in the spring and began riding at Belmont, where he won 11 races during the spring/summer meet, during which he sustained a concussion in a spill on May 28 and missed three weeks.

Ortiz won 11 races at Saratoga – where apprentices typically do not do well – and then had a strong Belmont fall meet with 21 wins, tying for sixth in the standings. During the Aqueduct fall meet, Ortiz tied for third in the standings with 11 wins.

“When I came over here I expected to do well because I work very hard and I’m very positive,’’ Ortiz said through an interpreter.

Rosa introduced Ortiz to the Hall of Fame jockey Angel Cordero Jr., who worked with Ortiz, going over tapes of his rides and giving him some suggestions regarding race strategy.

“Race riding and everything else he had,’’ Rosa said. “Angel corrected a few little things.’’

Said Ortiz: “You win when you think.’’

Ortiz’s riding style this fall caught the attention of the former rider Richard Migliore, who praised Ortiz in a video he did for the New York Racing Association’s website.

“A lot of kids have riding ability. It takes a certain kind of constitution physically and mentally to start to rise to the level that Irad Ortiz Jr. is rising to,’’ Migliore said. “I think this is an emerging star on the New York scene.’’

Rudy Rodriguez, for whom Ortiz has won 6 races from 29 mounts, said he likes Ortiz for his preparation and patience.

“When he comes to the paddock, he’s already got a plan what he’s going to do,’’ Rodriguez said. “He’s patient. He can come from behind and he can go to the lead. He places the horses well and he’s a good finisher.’’

Ortiz is scheduled to lose his apprentice status Jan. 10, but is likely to get a three-week extension due to time missed due to injury. Ortiz plans to stay in New York once he becomes a journeyman.

“I want to make it here,’’ Ortiz said.