When jockey Jose Ortiz purchased land in Ocala, Fla., in 2018, it was partly done with an eye toward the distant future. Those 20 acres in the heart of Florida horse country would someday be the young rider’s landing place in retirement.
In the near term, Ortiz, 26, planned on visiting his farm whenever he could to check on the retired Thoroughbreds he and his wife, Taylor, keep there. In reality, that meant Ortiz, whose North American mounts top 10,000 since he began riding in this country in 2012, wouldn’t be there all that often.
But during the COVID-19 pandemic, Ortiz has found the land to be an oasis and healing place, both physically and mentally, during these uncertain times.
Ortiz hasn’t ridden in a race since March 18 and has been in Ocala ever since, living with his wife’s family, who are among the heart and soul of Ocala’s Thoroughbred community. Taylor Rice, a former jockey, is part of the Rice family’s long lineage of horsemen and horsewomen. Her aunt, Linda Rice, is one of New York’s leading trainers. Taylor’s father, Wayne, and two brothers, Adam and Kevin, are also trainers, as was her late grandfather, Clyde Rice, the patriarch of this racing dynasty.
Ortiz fractured his right wrist Feb. 22 in a post parade accident at Gulfstream Park and was sidelined until March 14. After three days of competing, however, Ortiz’s wrist began nagging him, and he decided it needed more time to heal. This decision came at the same time COVID-19 began its rage in the United States, and Ortiz thought it was best for him and Taylor and their two young children, Leilani and Derek Jose, to decamp to the quiet environs of Ocala.