Jockey Jorge Ruiz set for return to Maryland

After spending the winter riding at Gulfstream Park during its prestigious Championship Meet, jockey Jorge Ruiz is set to make his return to Maryland this weekend at Laurel Park.

Ruiz, 37, is named in three of nine races Friday at Laurel including first-time starter Contempt trained by Graham Motion in Race 6, a maiden claimer for 3-year-olds; and Greg Tatum Racing’s Fast Tracked, who he rode to a runner-up finish in the 2022 Maryland Juvenile Fillies, in Race 7, a one-mile allowance for Maryland-bred/sired fillies and mares.

The Venezuela native is also named on Steve Newby’s Vance Scholars in Race 8, an open allowance for 3-year-olds and up going about 1 1/16 miles on the main track. When the horse was trained by Dale Capuano, Ruiz was aboard for 10 straight races from September 2021 to November 2022 including a victory in last summer’s off-the-turf Bald Eagle Derby. Following Capuano’s retirement, Vance Scholars is now trained by his nephew, Phil Capuano.

Ruiz finished ninth in Maryland with 51 wins at Laurel and historic Pimlico Race Course in 2022 to go along with nearly $2.4 million in purse earnings, also winning the Prince George’s County with Eons, the Challedon with Factor It In and Maryland Million Nursery with Johnyz From Albany, another Capuano trainee. Though his overall win total dipped from 94 to 69 last year, he reached a career high with $3.33 million in purses earned.

“We had a good year last year in Maryland. I was working with Dale Capuano. We had a lot of winners and we won the stakes together,” Ruiz said. “A lot of people have been good and they support me. I look forward to being back.”

Ruiz has 13 wins, 18 seconds and 18 thirds with $552,085 in purse earnings so far in 2023, according to Equibase, with all but one of his starts coming at Gulfstream. Eight of his wins came for trainer Jimmy Toner, including a natural hat trick March 25. His average win payoff was $14.57.

Jorge Ruiz
Jorge Ruiz and Kenny Had a Notion won the 2021 Spectacular Bid at Laurel. Photo Jerry Dzierwinski.

“We had a good winter with Jimmy. I have to thank Jimmy and the owners for giving me the chance to ride their horses,” Ruiz said. “I’m going to Keeneland to ride for Jimmy on [April] 23 and 26.”

A winner of 923 races in Venezuela, Ruiz earned his first domestic victory on 80-1 long shot Star Milly Aug. 21, 2016 at Gulfstream. He moved his tack to Maryland full-time in 2018 and won 65 races in 2019, 43 in pandemic-shortened 2020 and 83 in 2021.

“I’m very happy with how the winter went. My first start in the USA was Gulfstream Park,” Ruiz said. “Now I am happy to ride in Maryland.”

NOTES Thursday’s eighth and final race, a third-level allowance/optional claimer, is the first scheduled turf race in Maryland this year. In a salty, evenly-matched field, the David Jacobson-trained Mid Day Image is the lukewarm 7-2 favorite… Thursday also brings the return of Wondrwherecraigis in the sixth, a third-level allowance/optional claimer on the main track. The Grade 3 winner, trained by Brittany Russell, has not raced since September; he is the 9-5 morning line favorite… Last Saturday’s canceled card has been moved in its entirety to this Friday’s program…