Jose Ortiz, the top candidate for the Eclipse Award as the leading jockey in North America, should return to competition sooner than expected after undergoing minor knee surgery on Tuesday at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York.
Jim Riccio Jr., Ortiz’s agent, said doctors are confident his client will be able to resume riding on Jan. 1 at Gulfstream Park. That would give Ortiz ample time to shake off any rust before the $16-million Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes on Jan. 27 at Gulfstream.
“It’s much quicker than we thought and there was less cleanup than we thought,” said Riccio. He noted that a minimal amount of scar tissue was removed. The initial projection was that Ortiz would be sidelined for six weeks.
Ortiz injured his left knee during a spill at Belmont Park on Sept. 20, initially sidelining him for one week.
Despite that setback and the time he is about to miss, the 24-year-old native of Puerto Rico appears poised to topple Javier Castellano, the Eclipse winner each of the last four years, for outstanding jockey honors in 2017.
As of Tuesday, Ortiz led all riders with $27,181,860 in earnings, almost $3 million more than Castellano as the season rapidly winds down. He owns 266 wins in 1,387 starts (19 percent) compared with Castellano’s 211 victories in 1,190 starts (18 percent).
Ortiz’s success was highlighted by victories in the Belmont Stakes, his first Triple Crown win, and in the Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Trainer Todd Pletcher credited him with a perfect ride aboard Tapwrit in the testing 1 1/2-mile Belmont. He guided Good Magic home as a maiden for trainer Chad Brown in the Juvenile. Good Magic’s 4 ½-length score allowed him to become the first maiden to take the Juvenile.
According to Riccio, a minimal amount of rehabilitation will be needed. He expressed optimism that Ortiz, who finished third in Eclipse Award voting last year, has done enough this time.
“Although we are missing the last few weeks of the year, we are hopeful to win the Eclipse Award for all of this year’s accomplishments,” Riccio said. “It’s a dream come true for both of us to be given these opportunities in the sport we love.”