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 fifth installment as he prepares to ride well-regarded Toyota Blue Grass Stakes winner Good Magic, who will break from post six in a field of 20, in the 144thKentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve on Saturday at Churchill Downs.
I am excited as I look forward to the Kentucky Derby on Saturday. I really can’t ask for more than the position I am in. I have Good Magic, the 2-year-old champion and the winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, he has a great trainer in Chad Brown and we are coming off a win in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland in his last prep race.
The Blue Grass was everything I was looking for after we ran third in the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park. He really needed that first race. He was blowing pretty hard by the end of it. But the important thing was that he would move forward in the Blue Grass and he did. We can be right there if he moves forward again.
Good Magic stepped up his training before his second start. I could tell when I warmed him up that we would be in good shape. I could feel that he was a much more powerful horse and I rode him with confidence. We sat off the leaders and he was there for me when I asked him. We got the job done by a length and a half and he finished really well.
People ask me if I will be nervous. I am pretty sure I will not be. I have gained a lot of experience and ridden in many big races since I rode Samraat in my first Derby in 2014. I was definitely nervous that day. It was only my second full season as a jockey and I was 20 years old.
I looked into the stands and I had never seen such a big crowd. It was so loud. I could not believe the sound when everyone sang “My Old Kentucky Home.” It was like nothing I had ever seen before and I was nervous until I reached the starting gate. At that point, the nerves went away. I was thinking only about what I had to do to give Samraat the best possible chance. We worked out a pretty good trip and finished fifth.
I know a lot is expected of me and Good Magic on Saturday. I expect a lot of myself. It is not going to be easy because this is a very good field. Bob Baffert is an excellent trainer and he has Justify. I have to respect him after the way he beat Bolt d’Oro in the Santa Anita Derby because I know Bolt d’Oro is talented.
All four of Todd Pletcher’s horses have to be respected. Magnum Moon is a really good one for him. My longshot is Hofburg. My brother, Irad Jr., has that mount. I rode Hofburg when we ran second to Audible in the Florida Derby and I was really impressed. He is going to be a very good horse. The only thing he is missing is some of the experience that other horses have.
Good Magic has everything we need to win. He looks amazing and I know Chad is very pleased with him. The best thing about my horse is that I can do anything I want with him and that is huge in a race like the Derby. You can’t say that about too many others.
He always breaks well and that is very important if we are going to get good position for that run into the first turn. Sometimes everybody wants the same path and it gets rough. If I have to back off a little, I will do that because I do not want to push him so hard that he will be empty when we turn for home.
The Derby is a mile and a quarter. The biggest thing will be to get him relaxed off what I think will be a hot pace. There are a lot of horses in there that want the lead or want to be up close. Good Magic is not that way. If we get a hot pace, we will be behind the first flight of horses and that would be great. We would have the shot we want and we would have no excuses.
I worked out a perfect trip with Tapwrit in last year’s Belmont Stakes. It felt great to get my first victory in a Triple Crown race. But there would be nothing like winning the Derby.