Irad Ortiz and Trends at Saratoga: by David Navarre

Irad Ortiz and Trends at Saratoga

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

by David Navarre

Some jockeys are more suited to some horse running styles, surfaces and distances. Among the most successful jockeys is Irad Ortiz, Jr and he features prominently in the Saratoga meet. Since it’s a Tuesday and Saratoga is dark today, I thought we’d examine his performance in various running styles, surfaces and distances to see if we can gain any insights that might help in our handicapping.

The research tool

For our purposes today, we’re using STATS Race Lens to examine Ortiz’s performance over the last 12 months. This gives us over 1600 starts, which should provide reasonable sample sizes even for infrequent criteria.

Race Lens identifies five running styles for horses: early, early/presser, presser, sustained/presser and sustained. An early running style relies on starting fast, while sustained identifies horses which linger at the back before kicking to the front at the finish. Pressers use a more consistent pace, and there are two blended styles (early/presser and sustained/presser).

We’re going to examine the win percentage, in-the-money percentage, return on investment (for win bets) and Race Lens’ “success score”.

The baseline

Let’s examine a couple of “all horses in this kind of race” to get an impression of how Ortiz stacks up against the average jockey in those cases.

The win percentage that is usually tossed around as “average” is 11%, based on 9 horses in an average race, with one horse winning. This holds true in turf routes with 35,054 starters in 3,996 races in the last 12 months – 11% win, 11% place and 11% show, so a 3.7 success score and -24% ROI. That is, if you bet every horse in every turf race to win, you’d be right 11% of the time and lose a quarter of your stake.

Interestingly, when you look at all horses running in dirt routes, the win percentage is actually 14% (same for win, place and show, of course). This gives 4.7 success score and still -25% ROI. So, when you’re looking at those races, jockeys who are rating 14% aren’t better than average, but simply average.

Dirt sprints also give a slightly higher base win percentage with 13.2%, a 4.4 success score and a sad -28% ROI. Turf sprints are closer to the expected with 11.6% wins, 3.9 success score and -23% ROI.

The baseline for running styles is far more varied than those for surface and distance. This may actually be the most useful piece of research here. If Race Lens labels the horse as having a Sustained/Presser running style, that’s a pretty firm bias against that horse running well. One suspects that horses that start slowly and never really show an increase in pace end up labelled this way. Also notable is the similar bias against those labelled as Early/Pressers. Early speed followed by no significant change in pace is likely inspiring this label. Any bet made on horses of either of those styles ought only be made after watching at least a few of that horse’s races.

Pressers win far more than their share of races, taking up just 12% of cards, but bringing home 18% of the wins. The Sustained running style is nearly even – a bit less than 16% of the starts and 14% of the wins.

All Jockeys Win % Success Score ITM ROI # of Starts Percent of Starts
Early 17% 5.3 43% -22% 62,035 20.92%
Early/Presser 12% 4.1 38% -27% 106.327 35.85%
Presser 18% 6.1 48% -21% 36,659 12.36%
Sustained/Presser 8% 2.2 28% -35% 44,603 15.04%
Sustained 14% 4.9 44% -28% 46,950 15.83%


(If you’re losing more than a quarter of your stake every day, you may be doing things wrong…)

The big categories

The first thing people want to know is on which surface does a jockey perform better and at what distance. For Ortiz, there’s no obvious splits at the high level.

On dirt races, he wins 21% of the time, finishing in the money 52% of the time, returning -14% on those win bets. Transitioning to turf, he’s slightly better, with 22% wins, 55% in the money, but -15% ROI. The success scores of 6.9 (dirt) and 7.2 (turf) do show some difference, but it may not be enough to consider changing a bet because of it.

When running a sprint, Ortiz wins 21% of the time, finishing in the money 54% of the time and returns -16%. The route numbers are slightly better, with 22%, 54% and -12%, but we end up with similar success scores of 6.9 (sprints) and 7.2 (routes).

So, nothing obvious without checking the running styles and combing surface and distance.

Checking running style

Since we’ve established that the two most obvious factors – surface and distance – don’t produce an immediate bias in Ortiz’s rides, we can look at the other major factor in our study, running style. As noted above, the success score for a horse may vary more by running style than by surface or distance.

Not surprisingly, we see vastly different win percentages and success scores for Ortiz based on style. While he has higher values than the average jockey in each, he’s still affected by the average performance of each running style.

Irad Ortiz, Jr Win % Success Score ITM ROI Starts
Early 27% 7.5 52% -7% 292
Early/Presser 18% 6.0 53% -39% 364
Presser 22% 7.2 58% -19% 303
Sustained/Presser 14% 5.5 47% -27% 119
Sustained 22% 7.5 56% -5% 390


So, just as you now would look askance at any horse labelled as Sustained/Presser and be cautious about those Early/Pressers, you’d do the same for Ortiz. That said, comparing his numbers to the numbers for all jockeys is revealing. He wins at about a 50% higher rate within most styles, with his performance on Pressers (22% vs 18%, which is about 22% better) seeming a little less impressive and his performance on Sustained/Pressers (14% vs 8% which is 75% better) exceeding all expectations. That said, while a Sustained/Presser guided by Ortiz stands a way better chance than by the average jockey, it’s still not a likely winner.

It’s interesting that the ROI on Sustained running style horses is his best, but can be explained by comparison to the numbers for all jockeys. Ortiz doesn’t bring home many more Pressers than other riders, so the ROI there is about the same, but his return for both Early and Sustained is due to having 50% more winners than expected for those styles.

So, we’ve started to see the first variation in Ortiz’s winning percentage.

Examining surface and distance together

There are just four combinations of surface and distance to look at dirt sprints, turf sprints, dirt routes, and turf routes. Ortiz performs better than other jockeys at each, but the variation in win percentages for all jockeys all each is blurred by the similarity in performance by Ortiz.

All Jockeys Irad Ortiz, Jr Difference
Dirt Sprints 13% 19% +43.9%
Turf Sprints 12% 23% +98.5%
Dirt Routes 14% 24% +71.4%
Turf Routes 11% 21% +90.9%

So, while the best winning percentages for Ortiz come on Turf Sprints and Dirt Routes, the biggest difference from what most jockeys can produce come on the Turf, regardless of distance.

Blending style, surface and distance

Having seen some variation based on style, it behooves us to blend that together with the surface and distance factors to see if we can find where Ortiz excels. The trouble is, the data sets get smaller and it’s harder to tell whether the data is telling us something or there’s just a quirk.

As we see above, Ortiz does very well in dirt routes. With these, the data sets are small, in most cases just 20-50 races (280 races total). His best win percentage and success score comes in his 45 races on horses with an Early running style in dirt routes, where he won 33%, posted a success score of 9.1 and returned +31%. Yes, if you bet all 45 races blindly, you’d have turned a 31% profit. If you narrow that to the 27 races in which his mount had a morning line of 4-1 or lower, it’s a shocking 44%, but a lower +23% ROI. His 33% is nearly double the rate for all jockeys in this category (17%). Definitely worth using in multi-race wagers if you’re wavering on including a horse.

In turf sprints, it doesn’t really matter what running style the horse has, as he turns in 22-25% in any style, though again the Early running style is his best at 28%, with a success score of 7.5 and ROI of -17%. The shocker is provided when piloting Sustained/Pressers in those turf sprints. He turns in a 23% win percentage, which is nearly triple the average for such horses (8%). Needless to say, that results in a profit (5% in 31 races).

In what blend does Ortiz perform the worst? Riding Sustained/Pressers in dirt sprints, in which he only manages win 7% (2 for 29). That is, incidentally what all jockeys manage for Sustained/Pressers, just 7% in 24.932 starts. He does well with Early running styles in those races (25%), but as the table above shows, it’s not his best surface and distance.


While Irad Ortiz, Jr outperforms other jockeys, there are cases in which he does far better and a rare case in which he doesn’t. In turf sprints, he’s always good. In dirt routes, jump if he’s on a horse with an Early running style. Avoid the “blended” styles for Ortiz or any jockey (Early/Pressers and Sustained/Pressers), keeping in mind that Sustained/Pressers in dirt sprints gain no advantage from having Ortiz aboard.

Hopefully, this shines a little light on the issue. I wouldn’t base my picks on the jockey, but I’m glad to have a little more information and analysis.

What do you think?

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