Velazquez, Bailey, Cordero honored Friday at Saratoga
By Jenny Kellner | 08/23/2013 02:34 PM ET
Jerry Bailey, Angel Cordero, Jr., John Velazquez, NYRA CEO & President Chris Kay
Hall of Famers John Velazquez, Jerry Bailey and Angel Cordero, Jr. - the three winningest jockeys in the 150-year history of Saratoga Race Course - were honored Friday in a special ceremony at the track to unveil a bronze plaque to commemorate their achievements.
With hundreds of fans in attendance in the event, Velazquez, Bailey and Cordero also were each presented with a Saratoga red blazer to celebrate their outstanding achievements at the historic track, where they have combined to win more than 2,000 races.
"Today, on behalf of all our great fans, the men and women of the New York Racing Association are very proud to acknowledge and honor the achievements, skill and professionalism of the three men who used those skills to become probably the three most successful jockeys in the very storied history of Saratoga," said Chris Kay, CEO & President of the New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA).
Cordero, who won his first riding title at Saratoga in 1967, rode 649 winners until his retirement in 1992. In all, the "King of Saratoga" - for whom the coveted Saratoga riding title is named - was the top rider 14 times, including 11 straight years from 1976-86.
"You are the best fans I ever faced in my life," Cordero told the crowd, which included trainers Todd Pletcher and Hall of Famers D. Wayne Lukas and Bill Mott. "I was hated by everybody except at Saratoga. That's why I liked Saratoga - they never booed me at Saratoga. I really enjoyed what I did, and I am so proud of Jerry and John to accomplish this."
Taking over from Cordero at Saratoga was Bailey, who won seven riding titles from 1994-2001 and brought home 693 winners at the Spa.
"I first came to New York in 1982, and it took me years and years and years to try and beat this one [pointing to Cordero] right here," said Bailey. "Finally, when he reached the twilight of his career, I was able to climb to the top of the mountain. Then, toward the end of my career, I had to hold off this one [pointing to Velazquez], who was taught by this one [Cordero]. So, you can imagine how difficult it was.
"I've said many times that Angel was the best rider I've ever ridden with day in and day out on a consistent basis, and I still hold to that. But it's very close, because Johnny, in my estimation, is the greatest rider in the game today, and it was all I could do to beat him day in and day out. Good job, guys."
This past decade, it was Velazquez who dominated Saratoga, passing Cordero to move into second place two years ago and becoming its all-time leading rider on July 27 when he brought home his 694th winner.
"I would like to thank all the trainers who put me on the map - Todd Pletcher and Wayne Lukas and everyone else who gave me opportunities," said Velazquez. "I also would like to thank my wife and kids, who have supported me the whole time. I am honored to be named with these two guys here. I think they are the two best riders I have seen in my career. And there will be plenty more behind me that, one day, will be up here themselves."
Following the ceremony, the commemorative plaque was placed on display outside the jockey room at Saratoga.