A Saratoga State of Mind for John Velazquez
By Karen M. Johnson @WriterHorses
“The first year I went I was with Angel [Cordero] and we flew to Saratoga from LaGuardia [Airport], and he was telling me everything about Saratoga,” Velazquez said in a recent interview with Jockey Talk 360. “He definitely painted the picture to me, from day one, that it was a special place. He explained that I needed to concentrate and do the best I could do in Saratoga, because it’s a place where everyone is watching you. Angel said, ‘If you do well in Saratoga, it will carry you, and you can do well the whole year-round.’”
At the time of their conversation, Cordero, who later retired from riding in 1995, owned the most wins at Saratoga. In 2004, Jerry Bailey surpassed Cordero, and Velazquez took over as the all-time leading rider at the boutique meet in 2013.
The day Velazquez achieved the feat, by visiting the Saratoga winner’s circle for the 694th time, Cordero, who became the rider’s agent in 1998, told a local newspaper: “[Velazquez] should be proud because this is the meeting you’re really being looked at. You can be leading rider at Indiana 100 times and nobody remembers, but if you do it in Saratoga, this is the place everybody wants to be. This is the place where they give you the most popularity for being leading rider.”
The 43-year-old Velazquez enters the 2015 meet, which opens Friday, with 769 career wins from 4,626 mounts at Saratoga. His mounts have finished first in 143 stakes there.
On a July afternoon at Belmont Park, less than two weeks to the start of Saratoga, Velazquez’s face lights up when he is handed an Equibase print-out of his career stats at the upstate New York track. In that moment, nostalgia is written all over the face of the rider who has been on record saying he will contemplate retiring after reaching his 45th birthday in November of next year.
“Saratoga has been a most special place for me,” said Velazquez, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in a ceremony there in 2012. “Not only as a work place, but the place where I first started dating my wife, Leona. This November, we will be married 21 years.”
The last time Velazquez led the standings at Saratoga was 2011. Since then, the retired Ramon Dominguez won the riding title in 2012, and Javier Castellano snagged the title the last two seasons. Velazquez, however, has still been very much in the mix. He has ridden a total of 31 winners in stakes there over the course of the past three years, and ranked second and third, respectively, in overall wins at the past two meets.
There has been a steady stream of good riders to come through Saratoga since Velazquez first began riding there 26 years ago. Whether they stay for the whole meet, or come to ride in a single stakes race, the best of the riding colonies in Southern California and Kentucky routinely descend upon Saratoga and take their best shots.
“Every year, there are new faces,” Velazquez said. “When Jerry Bailey was riding, there were new faces coming out, including myself, who were trying to break through and make an impression. It seems like everyone tries their best at Saratoga.
“Saratoga has always been a difficult place to win races. You’ve got to be an your A game,” he continued. “Obviously, you have to have the horses too. Let’s put it this way: If you get the opportunity with the horses, make sure you make the most out of it.”
And so, 26 years later, his mentor’s words are still resonating with Velazquez.
Jockeys’ Guild Jockey of the Week Cliff Berry wrapped up his final meet at Lone Star Park as the veteran journeyman plans to retire at the conclusion of the Remington Park Fall Meet. Berry finished the week with nine wins, one second, four thirds, and earnings of $97,697 from 19 mounts.
Javier Castellano finished the Belmont Meet strong by winning eight of his 25 mounts and coming in the money on 60% of his mounts. His eight wins helped him secure the Belmont riding title by two wins over Irad Ortiz Jr.
Russell Baze continued his consistent riding in Northern California and led North America in wins with 12. The veteran won 55% and came in the money an amazing 91% of his mounts.
AQHA Quarter Horse Standings
John Hamilton remains on top of the wins leaderboard for the year with 103 from 494 mounts. Raul Ramirez Jr. ranks second with 94 wins from 434 starts and David Alvarez ranks third with 86 wins from 412 mounts.
GR Carter Jr. moved back to the top of the AQHA earnings leaderboard with $2,107,518 from 449 starts. Raul Ramirez Jr. is sitting in second in the standings with $1,617,150 and John Hamilton is third with $1,470,172. Keep up with all the AQHA leaders here . . .
Prat off to winning start at Del Mar
Twenty-two year old French-born jockey Flavien Prat scored his first two Del Mar wins Friday, guiding Xoxo for trainer Peter Miller in the fifth race and Baruta in the sixth for trainer Richard Mandella.
“Everybody knows it’s a great meeting so, yeah, it was very exciting for me,” Prat said of the wins. He credited the horses, more than anything he did, for the victories.
Prat was born in Melun, France, the son of a harness trainer. He has been around horses all his life. “I don’t know if I was born to be a jockey, but it was always in my mind,” Prat said. “I didn’t think of any other job.”
He rode his first winner at Fontainbleau, France in September of 2009 and came to the U.S. later that year, getting his first stateside opportunity at Hollywood Park and notching his first win on January 15, 2010 aboard Heavenly n’ Free ($103.40) at Santa Anita.
Ron Turcotte honoured with statue in Grand Falls
Horse racing legend Ron Turcotte was honoured by the Town of Grand Falls with the unveiling of a monument on Sunday.
The bronze statue is of Turcotte on the famed horse Secretariat at the finish line of the Belmont Stakes to capture the Triple Crown in 1973.
Turcotte told the hundreds of people at the unveiling that he’s the luckiest man alive.
“I have received many awards and trophies from all over, but to have my own town honour me in this way is very special to me and my family,” said Turcotte.
“It is very touching, believe me. It made me cry a few times there.”
Girls dressed in the blue-and-white checkered colours that Turcotte wore while riding Secretariat helped with the unveiling.
One of them was Turcotte’s granddaughter Lindsey Smith.
“It just makes me feel like a part of him somehow,” she said.
The statue cost $300,000 and has been years in the making.
Turcotte and Secretariat have also been honoured with monuments in Kentucky, New York and Calgary. To Turcotte, the Grand Falls honour is special.
“Being immortalized now, two places in Canada and two places in the United States, but in your hometown, it’s special,” said Turcotte.
Winning the Triple Crown by capturing the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes is a rare feat.
Secretariat was the first horse to do so in 25 years with record-setting times in all three races that still stand today.
There have only been three other Triple Crown winners since 1973, including this year’s win by American Pharoah.
Turcotte lives in the Grand Falls area. He returned there to live after a racing accident in 1978 that left him paralyzed from the waist down.
Turcotte’s brother Gaetan Turcotte says he is the most courageous person he knows.
“Never once did I hear him say, ‘I’m not going to get up again, I’m not going to try again,'” said Gaetan Turcotte.
Horse Races Now Looks to Raise $50k, All Proceeds to Benefit PDJF and Old Friends Thoroughbred Retirement
LEXINGTON, KENTUCKY – Horse Races Now, a mobile app company founded by renowned horse trainer Kenny McPeek, is on a mission to give back to the horse racing industry by raising $50,000 with 100% of proceeds to be fully donated between the Permanently Disabled Jockey’s Fund and Old Friends Thoroughbred Retirement. Horse Races Now is aiming to have the full donation amount raised before the upcoming 2015 Breeders’ Cup Championships in October.
“We developed the app because we want to show the sport to as many young fans as possible to encourage the growth of this sport,” says McPeek. “By offering a younger demographic a new sport they can follow with a minimum investment of time the industry will gain millions of new fans. My personal investment in this project is my way to ‘give back’ to a sport I love and support. Along with that, it’s always been the mission of Horse Races Now to also give back to horse racing, and the ‘Give Back to Racing’ campaign is our way of starting to do just that.”
“Horse Races Now is fortunate to have been downloaded by over 300,000 users in 186 countries. We know our fans are passionate about the sport so we wanted to give them a way to give back. We’ve partnered with two great charities and are asking our fans to help support the cause,” said Chris Carper, President of Horse Races Now. The company is utilizing GoFundMe so that fans have an easy way to help the cause and donate from anywhere. Fans can go to: http://www.gofundme.com/givebacktoracing to make a donation.
The PDJF is a 501(c)(3) charity that provides financial assistance to former jockeys who have suffered catastrophic on-track injuries. Founded in 2006, PDJF has dispersed more than $6 million to permanently disabled jockeys, most of whom have sustained paralysis or traumatic brain injuries. The Fund is a cooperative effort among racetracks, jockeys, horsemen and enthusiasts. Visit www.pdjf.org for further information.
“We are grateful that the mission of the PDJF will be shared with the clients of Horse Races Now. Without guaranteed funding the PDJF’s funding is made possible through donors, events and campaigns like this which is an integral part to sustain this program,” said Nancy LaSala, President of PDJF.
Old Friends Thoroughbred Retirement is a foundation that provides a dignified retirement to Thoroughbreds whose racing and breeding careers have come to an end. The farm is currently home to more than 150 with star attractions such as Silver Charm, Hall of Fame Champion and winner of the 1997 Kentucky Derby, Game on Dude, three-time winner of the Santa Anita Handicap, Breeders’ Cup Champions Gulch and Amazombie and Sarava, winner of the 2002 Belmont Stakes.
Berry goes out with a bang at Lone Star and wins Jockey of the Week
Jockey Cliff Berry, who is no stranger to the Lone Star Park winner’s circle with more than 1,000 victories at the Grand Prairie track, won three races on Sunday and secured a second place finish in the rider standings for the 2015 Thoroughbred season. Those three wins made it nine total for the week and helped him win the Jockeys’ Guild Jockey of the Week for July 13th – July 19th. The award is voted on by a panel of experts for riding accomplishments by members of the Jockeys’ Guild, the organization which represents more than 950 riders in North America.
Berry’s hot riding was somewhat overshadowed by an important personal announcement: The 52-year-old journeyman plans to retire at the end of the year after the Fall Thoroughbred season at Remington Park.
Berry is the all-time leader in wins at Lone Star Park with 1,072 since the Grand Prairie track opened for its inaugural season in 1997. The 52-year-old rider booted home a gelding trained by Bret Calhoun, in a runaway win in the first race. Berry then followed with victories in the fourth and fifth races.
“I’ve had a lot of good horses and trainers over the years,” Berry said. “That’s how you win. “I will miss it. It’s all I’ve ever known.”
JockeyTalk360.com spotlights the riders across North America and around the world who may be the bravest, toughest and most accomplished of all athletes. The Jockey of the Week is selected by a vote of representatives of America’s Best Racing, the Daily Racing Form, Equibase, the Jockeys’ Guild, the Paulick Report, the Thoroughbred Daily News, National Thoroughbred Racing Association, National Turf Writers and Broadcasters, Thoroughbred Racing Associations, Turf Publicists of America and racing fans. To find out more about the great sport of horse racing, and to learn more about your favorite jockeys visit JockeyTalk360.com. Sign up for the newsletter.