Meet the Jockeys of the 2020 Belmont Stakes

Racing
Irad Ortiz Jr., Manny Franco, and Luca Panici (left to right) are three jockeys among an accomplished group of 10 slated to ride in Saturday’s Belmont Stakes. (Eclipse Sportswire)

The jockeys represented in Saturday’s 152ndBelmont Stakes at Belmont Park represent some of the best in the sport, including three prior Belmont Stakes-winning riders and two making their very first start in the classic.

Read on to learn more about each jockey slated to compete in the Belmont, including their past history in the race and their overall accomplishments.

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Eclipse Sportswire

Manny Franco

Age: 25

Originally from: Puerto Rico

Previous rides in the Belmont: 0

Best finish: N/A

His 2020 Belmont horse: Tiz the Law

For a jockey making his first appearance in the Belmont Stakes, Manny Franco couldn’t have asked for better circumstances. Franco is scheduled to ride the prohibitive favorite in Saturday’s Belmont Stakes. Tiz the Law won the Champagne Stakes at Belmont Park last October, along with the Holy Bull Stakes and Curlin Florida Derby earlier this year. Franco was aboard for all of the victories. The second-youngest jockey in the Belmont Stakes field has consistently ranked near the top of the rider standings at Belmont over the past five years and he won the Belmont riding title last fall.


Eclipse Sportswire

Joel Rosario

Age: 35

Originally from: Dominican Republic

Previous rides in the Belmont: 8

Best finish: Won in 2019 (Sir Winston) and 2014 (Tonalist)

His 2020 Belmont Horse: Max Player

Rosario has made the most of his opportunities in the Belmont Stakes and has proven himself a reliable rider on the biggest days and on the biggest stages in racing. Last year, Rosario won the Belmont Stakes aboard 10.20-to-1 longshot Sir Winston. It was the second Belmont Stakes triumph for Rosario, who previously won the race in 2014 at odds of 9.20-to-1 with Tonalist. He’ll have to work some more of his magic this year to defeat imposing favorite Tiz the Law. Entering this weekend, Rosario ranks third in the rider standings at Belmont Park. He will take his shot in Saturday’s Belmont Stakes aboard Withers Stakes winner Max Player, a horse Rosario will be riding for the first time.


Eclipse Sportswire

Irad Ortiz Jr. 

Age: 27

Originally from: Puerto Rico

Previous rides in the Belmont: 6

Best finish: Won in 2016 (Creator)

His 2020 Belmont horse: Dr Post

Of the three jockeys in this race who have tasted Belmont Stakes glory, Ortiz is the youngest. He scored a surprise victory in the 2016 running of the race aboard Creator at odds of 16.40-1. Irad has won a number of racing honors including consecutive Eclipse Awards the past two years as the top jockey in North America. Remarkably, he currently leads all U.S. jockeys in 2020 wins (147 victories) and purse earnings (more than $7.2 million) despite taking an extended break from riding earlier in the year in the wake of coronavirus. In fact, the jockey nearest to him in victories (Luis Saez) has 14 fewer wins as of June 17, despite having ridden in 100 more races. On Saturday, Ortiz rides Dr Post, whom he guided to victory in the Unbridled Stakes in his last start in April. The horse has only raced three times in his young career, so his ceiling us unknown. Dr Post is trained by Todd Pletcher who has won the Belmont Stakes three times, most recently with Tapwrit (ridden by Irad’s brother Jose) in 2017.


Eclipse Sportswire

Luca Panici

Age: 46

Originally from: Milan, Italy

Previous rides in the Belmont: 0

Best finish: NA

His 2020 Belmont horse: Sole Volante

The second-oldest jockey in this year’s Belmont Stakes will be making his first start in the race and will be riding at Belmont Park for just the second time in his career. A native of Italy, Panici began his riding career in his home country and won his first race at age 16 in 1990. He won over 500 races in Europe before traveling to the U.S. in the late 1990s. Panici rides primarily in Florida and earned the second graded stakes win of his career when he guided Sole Volante to victory in February’s Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs. The journeyman rider will look to repeat the feat with Sole Volante at Belmont Park on Saturday.


Eclipse Sportswire

Jose Ortiz

Age: 26

Originally from: Puerto Rico

Previous rides in the Belmont: 5

Best finish: Won in 2017 (Tapwrit)

His 2020 Belmont horse: Fore Left

It was year ago that Jose entered the Belmont Stakes with the favorite, Tacitus, and seemed primed to win the race for the second time in his career. It wasn’t to be, as Tacitus finished just a length behind winner Sir Winston. Ortiz is one of the best young riders in the country and entered 2020 off of three consecutive years in which he finished first or second in the nation in purse earnings. He’s also a three-time Breeders’ Cup winner and has captured multiple riding titles in New York — frequently sparring with his brother Irad for riding dominance on the circuit. On Saturday, Jose will again bid for his second Belmont Stakes victory but he’ll do it with a late addition to the race and a likely longshot, Fore Left. The horse, trained by California-based Doug O’Neill, was originally scheduled to run in the Woody Stephens Stakes (at a shorter seven-furlong distance) on the Belmont Stakes undercard.


Eclipse Sportswire

Junior Alvarado

Age: 33

Originally from: Venezuela

Previous rides in the Belmont: 1

Best finish: Finished sixth in 2012 (Unstoppable U)

His 2020 Belmont horse: Modernist

Junior has ranked in the top 15 in national earnings amongst jockeys five times over the past decade and has captured more than 55 graded stakes wins. He began his career in America in South Florida in 2007 before moving on to Chicago where he’d become a leading rider. Though he’s been on the New York circuit since 2010, he’s only had one opportunity to ride in Belmont Park’s premier race. He finished mid-pack in the race in 2012 aboard Unstoppable U. Alvarado’s mount this Saturday is Modernist, a horse who appears to be one of the more logical contenders to threaten Tiz the Law. Modernist and Alvarado won a division of the Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford in February and returned to finish third in the Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby.


Eclipse Sportswire

John Velazquez

Age: 48

Originally from: Puerto Rico

Previous rides in the Belmont: 23

Best finish: Won in 2007 (Rags to Riches) and 2012 (Union Rags)

His 2020 Belmont horse: Tap It to Win

There’s little question who the most experienced rider in this year’s Belmont Stakes is – it’s John Velazquez. The Hall of Fame rider has won the Test of the Champion twice before in extremely tight finishes, most memorably aboard Rags to Riches in 2007 when she became the first filly to win the race in over a century. Velazquez gets the call this year aboard Tap It to Win, his 24th Belmont mount. It was just two weeks ago that Velazquez rode Tap It to Win for the first time and he guided the horse to a five-length victory at Belmont Park. The horse began his career at Woodbine in Toronto and has won races at three different tracks. He’s only been tested in graded stakes company once (he finished 10th in the Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity last year), so he might have his work cut out for him on Saturday.


Eclipse Sportswire

Reylu Gutierrez

Age: 23

Originally from: Rochester, N.Y.

Previous rides in the Belmont: 0

Best finish: N/A

His 2020 Belmont horse: Jungle Runner

Reylu is easily the youngest jockey in the 2020 Belmont Stakes and will be making his debut in the race just two and a half years after earning his first career victory at Finger Lakes. Earlier in 2017, Reylu graduated from SUNY Cortland with a degree in exercise science. In his first full year as a rider, he was named an Eclipse Award finalist for Outstanding Apprentice (horse racing’s version of Rookie of the Year). Reylu’s Belmont Stakes hopes ride on of the longer shots in the race. His mount, Jungle Runner, most recently finished eighth in a division of the Arkansas Derby and hasn’t registered a victory dating back to last November when he won a stakes race at Remington Park while going a shorter sprinting distance.


Eclipse Sportswire

Ricardo Santana Jr.

Age: 27

Originally from: Panama

Previous rides in the Belmont: 1

Best finish: Finished fifth in 2018 (Tenfold)

His 2020 Belmont horse: Pneumatic

Despite consistently ranking as one of the top jockeys in the U.S. dating back to 2013, Santana is still in search of his first victory in a Triple Crown race. In 2018, he finished third in the Preakness with Tenfold before a disappointing fifth-place finish in that year’s Belmont Stakes. Like Tenfold, Santana’s mount in this year’s Belmont, Pneumatic, is also owned by Winchell Thoroughbreds and trained by Steve Asmussen. Pneumatic enters the Belmont Stakes as one of the most lightly-raced horses in the field. He’s only had three starts in his career, including an allowance win with Santana aboard at Oaklawn Park in April and a very respectable third-place finish in the Matt Winn Stakes last out at Churchill Downs.


Eclipse Sportswire

Javier Castellano

Age: 42

Originally from: Venezuela

Previous rides in the Belmont: 13

Best finish: Finished second in 2011 (Stay Thirsty), 2014 (Commissioner) and 2016 (Destin). 

His 2020 Belmont horse: Farmington Road

A nose, a head, and three-quarters of a length – that’s what separates Hall of Fame rider Javier Castellano from three potential wins in the Belmont Stakes. The native of Venezuela has been one of the most prominent riders in New York for the past decade, which included a span of four consecutive years in which he won the Eclipse Award for being the nation’s top jockey. Castellano has more than 5,250 career wins, including a dozen Breeders’ Cup victories, but is still in search of that elusive first Belmont Stakes score. He’ll have his shot on Saturday with Farmington Road, a horse that Castellano first rode in a division of the Arkansas Derby (he finished fourth) right as he returned to riding after testing positive for coronavirus. Castellano is back in full-force at Belmont where entering this week, he leads all riders in earnings at the meet.

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