Jose Ortiz Diary: Excited to Ride Gronkowski in Belmont, Justify Not Unbeatable

The Life
Jockey Jose Ortiz after winning the 2017 Belmont Stakes aboard Tapwrit. Ortiz, who finished second in the Kentucky Derby on Good Magic, will try to beat Justify on Saturday in the Belmont aboard Gronkowski. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Jose Ortiz, on a fast track to superstardom at age 24 after winning his first Eclipse Award as North America’s leading jockey, is taking followers of America’s Best Racing along for the ride this year by writing a diary with Tom Pedulla.

Here is the seventh installment as he prepares to ride Gronkowski, named after New England Patriots star tight end Rob Gronkowski, in Saturday’s Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets in a bid to derail Triple Crown threat Justify.

Ortiz guided 2-year-old champion Good Magic to a second-place finish in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve. He tested Justify early in the Preakness Stakes before winding up fourth.

Here are his thoughts on the Belmont Stakes.

I am in an unusual situation with Gronkowski. I am happy to have him as my mount in a big race, but I have to admit I am still getting to know him and so is the trainer, Chad Brown.

Gronkowski started six times in England, the first two on turf and then he won four in a row on a synthetic surface, all at one mile. I gave him both of his works for Chad at Belmont Park to get to know him as well as I can. Both works were good. He went four furlongs in 47 4/5 seconds, then five furlongs in 1:01 4/5. I definitely think he is a horse that can do some good things this year.

He should be fine on dirt. I felt that he was very comfortable with his footing. The way he travels, the mile and a half should not be a problem. Knowing we can get the distance is huge because that is a big challenge for every horse in the field.

Ortiz celebrating a win. (Eclipse Sportswire)

I think Justify showed that he is the best 3-year-old in the country. I challenged him with Good Magic in the Derby but could not quite get to him. The Preakness did not go the way I planned. When Good Magic broke real sharp, I found myself caught up with Justify much earlier than I wanted to be. I know that is not the way my horse wants to run, but that is what happened.

I am not sure how things will play out with Gronkowski. I know Chad wishes he had more time to work with him and I wish I knew the horse better. It would have helped to have one race with him before this. But it is what it is. I will do everything I can to make the best of the situation.

I will have to see how everything plays out. I know everyone is expecting Justify to go right to the front after he drew the rail, but Mike Smith does not have to play it that way. He just needs to break well and make sure he has a good position. I will be keeping an eye on Justify and some other speed horses and see what my horse is telling me he wants to do.

As of now, I really do not know where I will be. A lot will depend on the pace. I will have to judge how fast the fractions are and see what develops.

Justify is a very nice horse. Bob Baffert is a good trainer, and I know he will have him ready. But I do not think Justify is unbeatable. My brother, Irad, is riding Hofburg. I rode him when he ran second in the Florida Derby. Hofburg definitely has a shot.

I am looking forward to the race and hope to meet Rob Gronkowski in the paddock. I am a Patriots fan and I know how much he means to that team. I would like nothing more than to win the Belmont for him. I think we can be in the mix.

I know a Triple Crown would be great for our sport. I also know I must do my job, and I will do everything I can to beat Justify.

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