Tim Tetrick and Irad Ortiz, Jr. comparisons, early million-dollar races and a chat with Ron Pierce

by Bob Heyden

The stunning numbers put up by standout jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr., only 31, are mind-numbing any way you slice it. But, harness racing has a rebuttal, and a good one: Tim Tetrick. Let’s take a close look at some startling similarities.

• Tetrick is the youngest driver to ever reach $100 million at 29 and $200 Million at 36. Ortiz, Jr. just became the youngest jockey to ever reach $100, $200, and $300 million. He’s at $308 million currently.

• Tetrick ($272.2 million) is 42, 17 years younger than Dave Miller ($282.3 million) and 26 years younger than John Campbell, who retired at 62 in 2017 with $299.7 million. Miller is currently No. 2 behind Campbell. Ortiz, Jr. is just 31 and the top four ahead of him are John Velasquez, 52, at $476 million, Javier Castellano, 46, at $397 million, Mike Smith, 58, at $349 million and Joel Rosario, 39, No. 4 on the list at $316 million.

• Ortiz, Jr. has led all of North America in victories the last seven years with a personal high of 366 last year. Tetrick led all of North America in wins in both 2007 and 2008 with a record 1,189 wins in 2008 (not approached since) but led all of North America in earnings seven straight years from 2007-13.

• The two highest jockey earning seasons of all time are the personal property of Ortiz, Jr., his last two: $37,075,772 (2022) and an astounding $39,192,585 in 2023. The two highest harness racing all-time best seasons belong to Tetrick $18,350.047 (2007) and $19,752,066 in 2008. Note that both did it in consecutive years.

• Ortiz, Jr. is the Eclipse winning jockey in five of the last six years, finishing second to Joel Rosario in 2021. The all-time leader in Eclipse awards, Jerry Bailey, didn’t win his first until age 38 in 1995. Bailey won a record seven. Tetrick is the youngest U.S.-born driver to make it to the Hall of Fame at 39. John Campbell at 35, as well as Herve Filion, were both born in Canada.

• Ortiz, Jr. (8/11/92) was born two years after Velasquez was named the Top Apprentice Jockey of 1990. Tetrick was born (11/22/81) two years after Campbell won his first of a record 16 National money titles.

• Ortiz, Jr. won four Breeders’ Cups in 2019 while Tetrick won four Breeders Crowns in 2012 including one with HOY Chapter Seven.

• Ortiz, Jr.’s first Breeders’ Cup win was with Lady Eli in 2014, the year before Tetrick was second in the Hambletonian with Smiling Eli and is the only driver in the 21st century to win the Hambletonian (2012, Market Share) and be second the very next year.


We’re coming up on 44 years since the dawn of the million-dollar race era, one that got the jump on the t-breds by a year. Niatross won the $1,101,000 Meadowlands Pace in 1980 before John Henry won the 1981 Arlington Million. Here’s a look at some notes on the first decade or so:

1. The first 10-horse field for a million-dollar race was the 1983 Hambletonian final won by Duenna, as the elimination fields narrowed to that number. The first eight million-dollar races all had at least 12 starters.

2. The 1989 Hambletonian made history for being the lone dead heat in 98 editions. But, a little-known fact, it had the highest percentage of drivers in the field who either had or would win the Hambletonian, 10 of 11 for 92 percent. Only Berndt Lindstedt with Demilo Hanover did not get the cheese.

3. John Campbell ‘s first favorite in a Million Dollar test? Joie De Vie in the 1983 Hambletonian. Even though he was fourth in a dead heat in the final won by Duenna with Winky’s Gill second, Joie De Vie got second money because he won his heat. Campbell’s colt was the 3-5 favorite in the final as part of the Howard Beissinger entry.

4. Ron Pierce’s million-dollar race debut came in the 1990 Woodrow Wilson won by Die Laughing. He drove Nukes Terror to a sixth-place finish. Pierce had done quite well for the just under $1 million contests of the prior year with Casino Cowboy second to Dexter Nukes in the Meadowlands Pace for $853,000 and he did win the $907G Wilson in 1989 with Sam Francisco Ben for Kelvin Harrison.

5. Title this the “Outsiders.” Why? Because the first five winners of any million-dollar race came from the five outside posts:

1980 — Niatross (Meadowlands Pace) — post 6

1980 — Land Grant (Woodrow Wilson) — post 9

1981 — Conquered (Meadowlands Pace) — post 7

1981 — McKinzie Almahurst (Woodrow Wilson) — post 8

1982 — Hilarion (Meadowlands Pace) — post 10

6. Fourteen drivers from the first 50 million-dollar races ever contested are still with us. John Campbell, Bill O’Donnell, Ron Waples, John Hayes, Jr., Del Insko, Ray Remmen, Mark O’Mara, Yves Filion, Mickey McNichol, Mike Lachance, Steve Condren, Bill Fahy, Richie Silverman and Jack Moiseyev.

7. Favorite sons in six of the first seven million-dollar races, the chalk, more than held up. Only Land Grant stopped it from being a perfect seven.


Why? Because two hours in I got to talk to Ron Pierce and you didn’t.

Pierce is still in Montana after a tough year losing several siblings and his more-than-wonderful mom Dolores last March.

When might we see Ron back east?

“I’m thinking the 50th anniversary of The Meadowlands [September 2026] and maybe the 100th Hambletonian [August 2025].”

Any regrets that you might have retired too soon in March 2015 at age 58?

“Not really. Either way I was going to be out for most of that year anyway with two back surgeries. I didn’t want to just be hanging around either. I’ve seen a lot of that in my life. Bigger name drivers at the end of their careers just looking to get a drive here and there.”

But, you came off a 2014 with both the Pacer of the Year, Sweet Lou, and Trotter of the Year, Shake It Cerry. No one has ever retired the year after doing that.

“But I sensed a shift in not getting some of the better ones.”

You hold the record for the most consecutive seasons, six (2006-11), of winning a race worth a million or more. Had you not chosen off Rocknroll Hanover (2005 HOY), it would have been seven straight!

“I know. I chose Village Jolt [2YO champ both owned by Jeff Snyder]. But the worst part of that is that I knew it right away. Remember I was also the first driver named on Muscle Hill. It was at Gaitway [June 2008] for a baby race. But that day I had to be at Chester with a couple for Jimmy Takter. When they are babies like that how do you know?”

The one and only Pierce, is the one and only driver to ever win two races valued at $1.5 million or more: the 2007 and 2020 Hambletonian with Donato Hanover and Muscle Massive, respectively.