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Hall of Famer Velazquez Registers 5,000th Victory

By Jon Forbes | 06/14/2013 06:58 PM ET
John_V_5000_Inside
John Velazquez 5000 wins
PHOTO/Adam Coglianese

Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez, a longtime regular on The New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA) circuit, scored his 5,000th victory in the United States and Canada on Friday when he guided Galloping Giraffe to victory in Friday’s sixth race at Belmont Park.

“Everybody says that when you get close to a big number you go into a slump,” said Velazquez, a 41-year-old native of Puerto Rico who was 3-for-3 on Friday’s card. “I started to believe it. ‘Maybe this is why I’m going so slow!’ Everything was second and third, second and third. I was riding really good races and, unfortunately, was getting beat. Finally, it’s over!”

Appropriately, the win came aboard a horse trained by Todd Pletcher, who has combined with Velazquez for many triumphs over the years, including the 2005 Grade 1 Travers with Flower Alley and the 2007 Grade 1 Belmont Stakes with the filly Rags to Riches.

“I was hoping that after he won [Friday’s third race] with San Pablo that he’d be able to win later with Galloping Giraffe,” said Pletcher. “I’m exited to be a small part of it. We’ve been the beneficiary of many great rides by Johnny, and winning 5,000 races is a tremendous achievement.”

The 2007 Belmont was the first Triple Crown win for Velazquez, who later annexed the 2011 Grade 1 Kentucky Derby with Animal Kingdom and the 2012 Belmont with Union Rags.

Velazquez began riding in the mainland United States in 1990 and won his first NYRA meet title during the 1996 Aqueduct spring meet. In total, he has won 26 NYRA meet titles, including five at Saratoga Race Course, where he has won 685 races, trailing only retired Hall of Famer Jerry Bailey (693 wins).

In 2004 and 2005, Velazquez won the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Jockey and in 2009 was honored by his fellow riders with the George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award. He has captured 11 Breeders’ Cup races, most recently the 2012 Mile with reigning Horse of the Year Wise Dan.

Velazquez used the moment to pay tribute to jockey Ramon Dominguez, who announced his retirement yesterday after winning 4,985 races.

“I plan to ride for a few more years, if I’m healthy enough,” said Velazquez. “If God blesses me with health, I’ll be here. We got to count on being healthy. Look at what happened to Ramon [Dominguez], one of the best riders I’ve seen in my 23 years. [He had to retire] right at the peak. You have to be healthy and be lucky.”

 

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