A mere ten years ago the racing world wondered if the two-time Eclipse Award-Winning rider John Velazquez would break through and Win his first Kentucky Derby. Now the question is, how many more Victories will the four-time Derby Winner earn?
There may be younger jockeys who Win more races day in and day out, but there is no current rider who is better in a big race than the 49-year-old Velazquez.
Affectionately known as Johnny V, he has quietly replaced Big Money Mike Smith as America’s top rider in the richest, most prestigious horse races.
Proof of Velazquez’s big-race prowess was on display this past weekend, when the Hall of Fame rider expertly guided a pair of horses to hard-fought Victories in two of America’s most esteemed races.
His rides aboard MEDINA SPIRIT in the Kentucky Derby and MALATHAAT in the Kentucky Oaks were absolutely masterful.
In the last two editions of the Kentucky Derby, Velazquez was the smartest rider on the racetrack.
Last year, he hustled AUTHENTIC to the early lead before using all of his wily veteran guile to make sure the speedy 8-1 shot had plenty left in the tank for the stretch-run challenge of the heavily favored TIZ THE LAW.
Saturday, it was MEDINA SPIRIT who benefited from the skill of Johnny V. Sent off as the sixth choice in the field of 19, his ride was similar that of AUTHENTIC of last year.
Velazquez sent MEDINA SPIRIT quickly out of the gate, got to the lead, and then used all his experience and talent to coax 10 furlongs out of the 12-1 shot.
It was the plan, and it was executed to perfection by horse and rider. Knowing when to push and when to relax his mount is a skill, and one that few human beings will ever possess to the level of Velazquez.
Humble and hard working, Johnny V always has been respected by his peers. In 2009, he was awarded the George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award by his fellow jockeys in recognition of his career and personal character.
A multiple Eclipse Award Winner and a Hall of Famer, the New York-based rider has been one of the best in business for the better part of three decades.
Since arriving from Puerto Rico in 1990, he has Won numerous riding titles in the best, and toughest jockey colony in America.
He also has been aboard 15 different Breeders’ Cup Winners and stands as the all-time leading money Winner among North American jockeys.
But despite all of those accomplishments, it is the Kentucky Derby where the whole world sits up and takes notice.
In America’s most distinguished race, four times in the last 11 years, it was Velazquez who found his way to the Winner’s Circle.
He broke his Derby drought by coming from way back in the pack with ANIMAL KINGDOM in 2011, and he guided ALWAYS DREAMING through the slop of Churchill Downs in 2017.
With back-to-back Wins in the Run For The Roses the last two years, Johnny V sits atop the racing world as our best go-to rider in big races, and it couldn’t have happened to a more deserving guy.