This month marks a full year since jockey Taylor Rice booted her last horse home at the end of Presque Isle Downs' meet, and four years since she picked up her first career victory there.
You can still find her commuting across the country with the racing calendar, but these days she's staying on the ground. Rice is now Taylor Ortiz, having married fellow rider Jose Ortiz in December 2016 and given birth to daughter Leilani in June.
The couple met in spring 2014, thanks to Taylor's aunt, Linda Rice.
“Jose was in my aunt's office on a dark day with nothing to do. She needed to get some work done, which meant getting him out of there, so she gave him my number because I was at home not doing much either,” Ortiz remembered. “He texted me that day and we went to the mall that afternoon. We have been together ever since.”
Ortiz made her mark in four years on the track; in 2014, her mounts earned more than $4.6 million and she was named a finalist for the Eclipse Award for outstanding apprentice jockey. She piloted multiple stakes placed runner Make the Moment and stakes winner Mah Jong Maddnes (yes, it is spelled that way), and rode winners of over $1 million in both 2015 and 2016.
Although she misses horses, Ortiz said she is officially retired and has no plans to resume her riding career. The couple hopes to have another child, and of course “the mommy schedule and the jockey schedule don't really mix well together.” For now, the Ortiz family travels according to Jose's riding schedule; they spent a week together at Keeneland and will be in New York for ten days before shipping west to California for Breeders' Cup week.
“She (Leilani) was in her first win picture, she was probably like 10 days old,” said Ortiz. “This is a whole new world for me and takes some adjustment. I still haven't quite figured out the logistics of getting back on the horses in the morning, but we're working on that. Horses are my whole life, so I've been itching to do something.”
Like her daughter will be doing, Ortiz grew up with horses from the very beginning, although she and her brothers were raised on a farm rather than at the racetrack. Taylor Ortiz is the fifth or sixth in the Rice family to be a jockey and the third generation on the racetrack. Her father is trainer Wayne Rice and she rode her first winner for her grandfather, trainer Clyde Rice. Ortiz and her brothers (also now trainers) grew up breaking yearlings, team roping, and barrel racing.
Despite the family tradition, Ortiz isn't sure she's likely to become a trainer herself.
Taylor Rice celebrates her first win, flanked by father Wayne (left) and brother Kevin (right)
“A trainer's hours are worse than a jockey's hours,” she pointed out. “I love horses and I love racing and I love the business. I'm not sure if it's something for me. I've thought about it because a lot of people have asked me that.
“At this point, it's more about enjoying my daughter and Jose's traveling a lot so we're trying to travel with him so he can spend as much time as he can with her. It's a lot of fun; we get to go to a lot of different places. She's got more frequent flyer miles as a 4-month-old than she probably should.”
Ortiz has found her experience as a jockey comes in handy as she supports Jose's career because it keeps her from becoming too nervous an onlooker.
“Maybe it comes from riding, but the nervousness isn't there,” she said. “You can't really, as a jockey, be worried about what's going to happen in the races. If you are, it's not for you. Obviously, if something happens, I'm worried then. There are some times I get a little more anxious watching, depending on how the race is playing out, being as we have a daughter. I don't think I have the same reaction as I know some of my fellow jockeys' wives have, or like my mother-in-law watching her boys ride. It's much more rooting and cheering than worrying about what might take place.”
As for Leilani, she's too young to express a strong opinion about horses yet, but Rice wouldn't be surprised if she carries on the family tradition of horsemanship one day, too.
“We've had just about a month of [Leilani being able to] smile and laugh, so it's early to tell,” said Ortiz, who said she's looking forward to Leilani getting old enough to interact with the horses. “I've loved horses my whole life and so has Jose. If she doesn't like them, she can do something else.”