(Reuters) - There are six first-time jockeys riding in Saturday’s Kentucky Derby but two share a special bond rarely seen in the starting gates at Churchill Downs.
For the first time in 30 years, and just the fourth time since the Derby was first held in 1875, two brothers will ride against each other in the Run for the Roses.
Irad Ortiz, 21, will be on board Uncle Sigh in barrier four when the horses are loaded into the gates. Three spots to his right will be his brother Jose, a year younger, in the irons of Samraat.
“I’m very excited,” said Irad, a sentiment echoed by his brother. “The Derby has been my dream,” said Jose. “And now it’s coming true.”
Jose has ridden Samraat in each of his six career starts, winning five times and finishing runner-up once. The horse was rated a 15-1 chance in early betting.
Samraat’s trainer Rick Violette said he was thrilled for the two brothers to be riding together in the Derby.
“It’s a terrific accomplishment,” said Violette.
“It’s probably very, very limited in any sport where two brothers have reached the top, it’s not usual.
“It’s a wonderful thing that two nice kids with enormous potential (have achieved this), and they’re only going to get better.”
The Kentucky Derby will be Irad’s first time aboard Uncle Sigh, a 30-1 shot. Uncle Sigh’s trainer Gary Contessa had been disappointed by the horse’s last run so ditched his previous rider for Irad.
“He’s a very good rider,” Contessa said. “He’s cool under fire and makes good decisions. He’s got the eye of the New York trainers.”
Just as remarkable as making the Derby field has been the rapid rise both brothers have enjoyed since leaving their native Puerto Rico and moving to New York.
In 2011, when Irad first came to New York, he rode 151 winners. The following season, he rode 152 then in 2013 he saluted 223 times. Jose joined him in the Big Apple in 2012, sharing the same house near Belmont race track.
In his first year, he booted home 98 winners then 224 last season, one more than his sibling, and now the pair are getting ready to line up in America’s biggest race.
“It’s pretty cool,” Contessa said. “It’s kind of a long shot.
“You think about all the jockeys, trainers, and owners trying to make it to the Derby.
“Just getting into the Derby with a horse is one in 24,000. It’s a tremendous accomplishment.”
Reporting by Julian Linden in New York; Editing by Larry Fine