Master Of The Ring: Eddie Ortiz

Eddie Ortiz | Sara Gordon


In early August, during the second session of this year's Fasig-Tipton New York Bred Yearlings Sale, a member of the Hidden Lake Farm consignment's team led a uniquely colored grey Ghostzapper filly into the sale ring and handed her off to the ringman on duty, Eddie Ortiz.

As the auctioneer introduced the filly and bidding ensued, each nervous flick of her ear was met with a reassuring stroke down her neck, along her back and across the underside of her belly. Quiet words were spoken, only heard by Ortiz and the inquisitive yearling listening, until the hammer struck at the final price of $300,000.

For any onlooker, the compassionate interaction between the ringman and the filly in the ring appeared to be unique, but to Ortiz, it's just the norm.

Born and raised in Puerto Rico, he was introduced to horses at an early age and 'officially' started working with them at the age of 10.

“I started going [to the barn] on the weekends and after school, learning how to clean stalls. Then I started hotwalking and after hotwalking, I was a groom for a little bit,” he said.

The influence was there from the start, with both his godfather, Johnny Belmonte, and older brother, Eliezer, riding as professional jockeys. As Ortiz's time spent in the barn increased, so did his skill set. A trip to the 1992 G1 Clasico Internacional del Caribe with Puerto Rican contender El Barco (Don Lao) was a particular highlight.

All of these experiences in Puerto Rico eventually led Ortiz outside of it, as he, at the age of 14, migrated to Florida with his brother, first to Miami and later to Ocala.

Ghostzapper–Scene Maker filly (Hip 410) | Fasig-Tipton

“I've done a little bit of everything. It's good when you're learning to be around nice horses, like I was in my country, and then to come to the U.S. and learn and be around the best horsemen and best horses, it teaches you a lot,” said Ortiz.

Plans of becoming a jockey gave way to working on esteemed farms in Florida's horse country, with time spent at Dr. E.C. Hart's Hart Farm before moving on to Mike Sherman's Farnworth Farm, where he learned how to work with stallions. He was also introduced to the world of two-year-old sales at Ocala Breeders' Sales Company while working for consignors Jimbo Gladwell of Top Line Sales, Eddie Woods, Ciaran Dunne of Wavertree and others.

“They are really, really good people, very professional in what they do and really organized. When you work with people like that, who encourage you to do it, it's something that makes you,” said Ortiz. “I've been through a lot of horses in life, I've had a lot of good things happen to me, and you just have to take it and be humble.”

His traveling continued, eventually bringing Ortiz to Kentucky to work at Three Chimneys Farm, where the great stallions Point Given and Dynaformer were standing. While in the Bluegrass state, Ortiz also began working for some of the larger consignors in the area, including Taylor Made Farm and Gainesway.

Ortiz gives a lot of credit to the Taylor Made team for helping to teach him about many important aspects of the sales world, particularly when it came to showing horses.

“I was learning from the best. Taylor Made, to me, are the people that I learned a lot from when looking at a horse. Be prepared, be professional. When sale time comes, they take the time to teach you,” said Ortiz. “You cannot say a bad word about any horse in front of anybody, you might be talking to the owner. That's part of the discipline that Taylor Made teaches people. If you don't get along with this horse, you switch. They'll put you with another horse, that way you can get along. Horses are sensitive and you've just got to have good communication with them.”

Taylor Made also brought Ortiz to Saratoga Springs, Ny., for the first time over 10 years ago. For him, the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga Sale of Selected Yearlings is always a highlight.

Eddie Ortiz | Sara Gordon

“Saratoga is so special. When you've got a nice horse and you've got the right people there, you've got a feeling that horse is going to bring a lot of money. You hang on tight and be prepared because there's going to be some fireworks,” said Ortiz. “That's another thing I learned with Taylor Made, how to price horses and get an idea of where you think you'll be.”

But it was his trips to Maryland, working for consignors each year at the Midlantic Two-Year-Olds in Training Sale, that took him one step further with Fasig-Tipton.

“Eddie has worked with a lot of different consignors for years and when he would come to the sales, he was the master groomer. He would come up and body clip all of these two-year-olds. It was amazing what he could do,” said Paget Bennett, Fasig-Tipton's Midlantic Sale Director.

It was just a couple years ago, as the sale company was still wading through the murky waters of how to conduct sales during the Covid-19 pandemic, that Bennett asked Ortiz if he had any interest in becoming a member of Fasig-Tipton's team of ringmen. His answer was a resounding yes.

“It wasn't a once and done to get us through the whole Covid time, he comes for every sale,” said Bennett. “He's just a good guy. I love how he takes care of his animals, because he always does what's right with his personal horses and he always does what's right by the horses in the ring.

“He gives them a firm hand when it's needed but otherwise, he gives them the benefit of the doubt when trying to reassure them and getting them comfortable being in there with all of that auction banter going back and forth.”

Since Ortiz has joined the team in the sale ring, he has been the prime example of showing what it means to put the horse first. Regardless of the commotion in the sale pavilion, from the auctioneers to the bidders and bystanders, Ortiz has a way of making it seem as though him and the horse he's holding are the only two in the room.

Tapit–Plenty O'Toole filly (Hip 129) | Fasig-Tipton

“I cannot do anything better than when I perform with the horses. I know when I need to use my ability to calm them down, to let them know, 'Hey, nothing's going to happen.' I try to be a friend to them, because they're babies, in their brain they're still babies. That's what some people don't understand. You cannot beat a horse or teach them the wrong habits; you just need to have good communication with them. Let them know that nothing is going to happen,” said Ortiz.

Ringmen play a crucial role during a sale, showing the horses to their full potential while also ensuring their safety in the ring. It can be quite the task, especially when handling weanlings or yearlings.

“That's the final step. People have worked so hard prepping them and getting them to that point, so you have to have the right people on them. I think when the handlers remain calm, the horse doesn't sense nervousness with them, and then they're like 'Okay, we've got this,'” said Bennett.

When asked if there was any particular horse that has been a highlight during his time as a ringman, Ortiz was unabashedly honest in his response.

“I had the pleasure of holding Shedaresthedevil when she sold for $5 million. But the way I look at it, all of the horses have the same value. I treat them the same. I love them the same,” he said. “You can hold a $5 million horse, a $30,000 horse, a $5,000 horse, and by the time everything goes the right way and they're ready to go in the gate, maybe the $5,000 horse will be the Kentucky Derby winner. What I've learned in life is that it's not the price in the book that guarantees they're going to be the super horse.”

Just as his late brother influenced him, Ortiz shares his love of horses and the industry with his wife of 18 years, Waya, and they've both passed it on to their children. Of their five kids, their oldest daughters Maria Cardenas and Amy Molina work as grooms at the sales, while their youngest son William follows in the footsteps of his late brother, Alexi.

Ortiz's eldest son, a groom and ringmen at the sales alongside his father, passed away two years ago at the age of 20.

“I've been through a lot of stuff in the last two years. Losing my son, that hit me really hard, but I have to keep going. My 14-year-old boy has been riding and working with horses since he was a little kid. He ponies my horses and does all the work too. I'm just waiting for him to be 18 so he can be the next 'Eddie Ortiz.' He's really good, always willing, he's got a good head on him and good ability,” said Ortiz. “I love to help people and teach people, encouraging them to do it the right way. This is a hell of a sport, this is so important, and you've got to love it.”

Outside of his own children, Ortiz was there to help his nephew Edwin Gonzalez achieve his dream of becoming a jockey. Now a multiple stakes-winning jockey in both his native Puerto Rico and the United States, Gonzalez has won 1,753 races through Sept. 26 and currently ranks second in the jockey standings at the current Gulfstream Park meet.

Eddie Ortiz at work | Sara Gordon

To top it all off, Ortiz has his own pinhooking business, buying one or two yearlings each year and reselling them as two-year-olds.

“My favorite place to sell horses is Maryland. I love to go to Maryland for the May sale. [In 2019], I sold a filly by Tapit that I [originally] paid $7,500 for, and we got $145,000. In the past year, I sold a couple of horses for $80,000, $90,000. I don't spend a lot but as long as I can double my money, I'm good,” he said.

Every day of Ortiz's life, the horses come first, on a professional and personal level. Though it's impossible to have an exact count of the horses that have passed through his hands, on the track, at the farm, in the sale ring and everywhere in between, the impact each one has left on Ortiz is evident.

“I body clipped [Maple Leaf Mel] for Robert Brewer. She was in Maryland [at the 2022 Fasig-Tipton Midlantic May Sale]. I've been working for Robert for a long time and I've been fond of that filly since she started. I was there when she went down [during the GI Test]. When that happened, I wanted to run to the track. I started crying because I had a little memory with her,” said Ortiz. “When you hold a horse, you don't know if that horse is going to be the best horse in the country. You go through a lot of horses and they're all good memories. You want to be part of something and that's how I feel, I want to be part of it.”

Though some may call it a labor of love, for Ortiz, it's just a love. A love for the horses, the people behind them and the industry that encompasses them all.

“I would not be the man I am if it wasn't for my mentors and friends: Gilberto Laiz, Richard Curtin, Bill Recio, Gordon Reiss, Andre Elba, David McKathan, Jesse Hoppel, Omar Ramirez, and lastly, the main man that without him I would be nothing, [my brother] Eliezer. I would also like to thank my wife for always being there and helping my business grow,” said Ortiz. “I've got my little farm, I'm living the American dream, that's all I can say. I live well, I take care of my family in the right way, and I have the best support in the horse business.

“I'm not looking for the money. If I can help somebody, I will, because I love the horses more than I love my life. If you don't love the animal, you're in the wrong business.”

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