As jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. basked in the celebration of what was his fifth victory of the day at Colonial Downs on Tuesday, a fan shouted a congratulatory statement in his direction.
“You own Colonial!” the fan said.
Not only did Ortiz nab five wins Tuesday, but the fifth and final came in what was the biggest race of Colonial Downs’ 27-date season: the Virginia Derby.
The 30-year-old directed Capensis to an explosive sprint down the final front stretch, passing leaders Royal Patronage and Catnip for a two-length victory in the $300,000 Derby’s 19th running.
“I asked [Capensis] to go a little early; he was there,” Ortiz said of the winning move. “I just kept going. He gave me everything I asked.”
Capensis stood at 8-1 odds entering the race. The Derby marked just the third start for the horse, which is trained by Todd Pletcher. Pletcher trained Kentucky Derby winners Super Saver (2010) and Always Dreaming (2017), and is a seven-time Eclipse Award winner as the most outstanding trainer in the country.
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Including Tuesday, Capensis has won two of his three starts so far. And it was Ortiz’s brother, Jose, who rode Capensis the two previous times, including a win at Belmont Park in July.
In the Virginia Derby, though, Jose had a different mount: Limited Liability. So it was Ortiz who “got lucky,” as he put it, and wound up on Capensis for the first time.
Ortiz is a notably accomplished rider himself. He’s won three Eclipse Awards of his own, as most outstanding jockey. And he leads all jockeys this year with 230 victories.
He worked out Capensis earlier in the week, and came away with a good impression. So he was confident that he had enough horse to make his run Tuesday.
Ortiz stayed on an outside line for most of the race, patiently waiting. Then, in the final turn, he pushed Capensis forward, beginning the charge.
Royal Patronage, which stood at 5-1 odds, had led for most of the race. He is trained by Graham Motion, who was looking for what would’ve been a Virginia Derby four-peat. Royal Patronage was ridden by jockey Joel Rosario, who won the 2013 Kentucky Derby on Orb and is a defending Eclipse Award winner.
Catnip, though — ridden by Jevian Toledo — pulled almost level with Royal Patronage out of the final turn.
Meanwhile, Capensis and Ortiz, from an ideal position on the outside, continued to gather steam. They pulled out front on the front stretch with little contest, finishing in an unofficial time of 1:48.15.
“He responded well,” Ortiz said of Capensis. “We kicked all the way to the wire.”
California Frolic finished second, and Limited Liability was third. Unanimous Consent, the early favorite at 3-1 odds, was fourth. Catnip slipped to sixth, and Royal Patronage was seventh.
The Virginia Derby was the headlining 10th of 11 races on Tuesday’s card. Earlier in the day, Ortiz won a pair of allowance races, on Seven Channels and Aristocratic, respectively. Then he won the $100,000 Overnight Handicap on Battle Bling.
Later, Ortiz took the $200,000 Virginia Oaks, on Spirit and Glory. The only race Ortiz didn’t win out of the six he ran Tuesday was the $150,000 Da Hoss Stakes, in which he finished second, on Yes and Yes.
It was a humongous day, not only for Ortiz but for the track, which set a single-day handle record of $6.5 million. The previous record was $4.8 million, set last year.
But it was Ortiz in particular who could say that the day was his.
“It’s great any day you can win five, no matter where,” Ortiz said. “Especially here — it’s my second time coming to this track. And I did great, I did great. It’s nice.”