Jose Ortiz

Jose Ortiz

Keeneland/Coady Photography

Jose Ortiz Wins First Race Back After Knee Surgery

Jockey leads the country in both wins and purse earnings.

Jockey Jose Ortiz made a winning return to the irons with a victory in the Dec. 28 opener at Gulfstream Park, his first mount since he underwent minor knee surgery Dec. 3.

The nation's leading jockey by wins and purse earnings (more than $27.2 million) in 2017, Ortiz guided Suzanne Stables' homebred 3-year-old filly Shar Ran to a frontrunning, four-length victory in the seven-furlong optional-claiming allowance on the main track.

Ortiz inherited the mount from jockey Julien Leparoux, who returned to Kentucky for the birth of his second child. Leparoux is expected to return to South Florida Saturday.

"She bobbled a little bit, but she was the fastest horse from the gate. Passing the chute she was on the lead without asking her for much," Ortiz said. "She relaxed very well the whole backstretch and by the three-eighths pole, I knew I had a lot of horse under me. When I asked her, she responded really well. I'm very happy (trainer Mike) Tomlinson gave me the opportunity to ride her, and the owner, and she was ready. She was ready to win."

It was the 267th win of 2017 for the 24-year-old Ortiz, whose 351 victories were tops in the country last year. He had 43 wins and nearly $3.8 million in purse earnings from just 192 mounts during last winter's Gulfstream meet, and is a leading candidate for his first Eclipse Award as top jockey.

"I love to be in the winner's circle here in Florida, and to come back right away with a win is just great," Ortiz said. "I feel very good. To be honest with you, the only day off I had was the day after surgery. After that I kept exercising. I couldn't run right away, so I did a lot of cycling and I got on a couple horses, but not much, really. It was a very minor clean-up that I had, so I got very lucky."

Ortiz was winless with his other two mounts Thursday. He finished second with Musical Heart in the fifth race and seventh with Browns Gap in the fourth race.