Veteran John Velazquez showed why he is considered one of the nation’s top turf riders with a heady ride aboard Wake Forest to win Saturday’s $400,000 Man o’ War Stakes (Grade 1) at Belmont Park. That effort along with an overall solid week led to Velazquez being named the Jockeys’ Guild Jockey of the Week for May 9 – 15. The award is voted on by a panel of experts for riding accomplishments by members of the Jockeys’ Guild, which represents more than 950 riders in North America.
A member of the Thoroughbred racing Hall of Fame, Velazquez piloted the 2-1 favorite to victory in the 1 3/8 miles turf event. Off a step slow at the break, the German-bred winner saved ground at the back of the nine-horse field, trailing an early pace set by Go Around. That leader would be tracked closely by Money Multiplier, the Chad Brown trained stablemate of Wake Forest (GER).
Velazquez urged his mount to pick up the pace in the far turn as the field converged at the top of the stretch. The Puerto Rican born rider then deftly navigated Wake Forest to angle off the hedge, finding a clear path late where the pair charged down the lane to sweep past their stablemate in the final yards. The three-quarter-length victory was Velzaquez’s second win in the Man o’ War as his first came aboard Boisterous in 2013.
“We know he doesn’t break really well,” said Velazquez, “so it was a perfect opportunity to put him behind horses and save ground and hopefully, down the lane, we’d get some sort of seam where we could let him run. When he got the little seam he just exploded.”
The 44-year old Velazquez learned to ride in his native Puerto Rico. In January of 1990, he won his first race at El Nuevo Comandante Racetrack in Canóvanas, Puerto Rico. That same year, under the guidance of agent and former jockey, Angel Cordero, Jr., he moved to New York State to ride. He has since earned a combined 24 riding titles at Aqueduct Racetrack, Belmont Park, and Saratoga Race Course.
On October 13, 2013, the George Woolf Award winner became the all-time leading money winner among North American jockeys, surpassing Pat Day. The next year, Velazquez became the all-time leading money winner in the history of Thoroughbred racing and the first whose earnings surpassed $300 million. He has finished in the top ten in North American earnings every year since 2000 as well.
For the week, Velazquez won five races from his 25 starters with two second place finishes, and five third place finishes. His mounts total earnings of $523,802 were good enough for second among all riders.
Follow Velazquez on Twitter
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 Jockeys’ Guild Jockey of the Week is selected by a vote of representatives of America’s Best Racing, The Daily Racing Form, Equibase, Horse Racing Nation, The Jockeys’ Guild, The Paulick Report, The Thoroughbred Daily News, National Thoroughbred Racing Association, National Turf Writers and Broadcasters, Thoroughbred Racing Associations, and Turf Publicists of America.