LOUSVILLE, Ky. – Battlers on the track and video game-playing, young brothers in the home they share in New York, jockeys Jose Ortiz and Irad Ortiz, Jr., will ride out their childhood dreams when they saddle up Saturday in the Kentucky Derby.
They're leading riders on the New York Racing Association (NYRA) circuit.
Irad is sixth and Jose is seventh in the Equibase North American jockey standings this year.
This will be the first Derby for both. They've come far in a hurry since participating in a high school program for jockey training in their native Puerto Rico.
"I liken those two brothers to Eli Manning and Peyton Manning,'' says New York trainer Gary Contessa.
"They were well taught. Whoever taught those two Ortiz brothers made them sensational riders. Those two guys are great."
Contessa will have Irad, 21, abroad New York-bred Uncle Sigh (30-1) on Saturday. Jose, 20, will ride another New York-bred, Samraat, the sixth choice at 5-1.
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In phone interviews from New York this week, both brothers said they were basically pinching themselves.
"I feel good because I know my brother's dream is to ride in the Kentucky Derby, and it's my dream, too. So it's our dream come true for both of us," said Jose.
Irad: "I feel very happy. We are going to both race in the Kentucky Derby. It's still like a dream.''
Their grandfather and uncle were jockeys in Puerto Rico.
At the start as kids, the two brothers used to sneak onto the Hipodrom Camaerero track in Puerto Rico. When they turned 16, they entered the Escuela Vocacional Hipica, a school for aspiring jockeys.
"We have great teachers over there. We were in the school for two years," said Irad.
Their jockey idols growing up were native Puerto Ricans Angel Cordero Jr. and John Valazquez. On Saturday, they will compete with Velazquez, who will ride Intense Holiday.
Jose and Irad will be the first brothers to ride in the same Derby since Eddie and Sam Maple in 1984. In that race won by Swale, Eddie was third on At The Threshold and Sam was 13th on Taylor's Special.
The Ortiz brothers finished 1-2 in the 2013-2014 meet on the inner track at Aqueduct in New York. Irad led with about $5 million in earnings; Jose was second with about $4.9 million.
"We always race together, our whole life … a lot of races, we do a lot of races together," said Irad. "He's my brother, but business is business. We're close every time."
Jose, who lives with his brother near Belmont Park race track in New York, echoed that.
"We spend all day together. When we are at the track, it's business. But when we go home we are brothers," said Jose.
Irad said their father and grandfather, both named Irad, will attend the Derby, along with their mother, Vilma Morales.
Contessa also said the two jockeys put family ties and brotherly love aside when they ride.
"One day, the younger brother claimed foul against the older brother in a race. So they go out there, and they do their job every day," said Contessa.
The horses they will ride have a rivalry going.
Samraat is owned by My Meadowview Farm and trained by Rick Violette, Jr. The farm is owned by Leonard Riggio, chair of Banes & Noble.
Uncle Sigh, named after Duck Dynasty TV personality Uncle Si, is owned by the Wounded Warrior Stables and Anthony Robertson.
Uncle Sigh was second to Samraat in the Withers and Gotham stakes. In the Wood Memorial, won by Derby entrant Wicked Strong, Samraat was second and Uncle Sigh was fifth.
After the Wood, Contessa decided to switch jockeys and put Irad on him for the the Derby.
Contessa again drew a parallel with the Manning brothers of NFL quarterbacking fame.
"I need to beat Eli, so I went out and got Peyton (the older brother)," says Contessa.
Contessa also is excited Uncle Sigh and Samraat are both New York-breds in a field dominated by horses born on Kentucky farms.
"It's exciting because it's great for our program. It's great for New York. So it's a beautiful thing," says Contessa.
"You wouldn't think that you'd get two New York-breds in the Derby, let alone two New York-breds who have kind of a rivalry going on – and ridden by two brothers."
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