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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


By NYRA Press Staff John Velazquez, winner of his 1,000th race at Saratoga aboard Precursory (No. 8, $14): “I was hoping I had something left for her. I said, ‘Come on mama, you’ve got to keep going.’ I got her a little closer to that other horse [No. 5, Tizzy in the Sky] and she gave me that extra to hold a neck in front of the other horse. Even on the gallop out, she held on pretty good.”

On his preparation after reaching No. 999: “I don’t change anything. I’ve been here way too long to start changing things. I try to do the best that’s possible in the race that I’m riding with the horse that I’m riding. I go race by race and try to study the race and see who is the competition and where I should be. I don’t try to push it. I ride my races and I think that’s why I’ve been successful.”

On reaching yet another milestone: “By far, this is one of the best ones. For me, coming here at 18-years-old with Angel Cordero, for many years the leading rider here at Saratoga. We flew here my first year from LaGuardia to Albany and on the ride here he told me everything about Saratoga and how special it is. The first year I won maybe three races, the second year maybe two races. I was furious – this was not a special place for me. In 1992, I was almost going back home but with the help of a new agent, it got me started again and it went on the right way with steady business. And it went on to where I am today.”

On riding at Saratoga: “It means a lot to me. It’s very special. It was very special for Angel and Angel made it special for me. He put it in my head when I came here that if you can thrive at Saratoga, you can thrive everywhere you go. That grew on me little by little as I got better and I understood the meaning of riding in Saratoga and the sacrifice and all the things you do with family to do what’s best being here at Saratoga. It’s a special place to be here and to be with my family and me and my wife 28 years later are still together.”

On realizing he was closing in on 1,000 wins: “It’s a special number, no matter what. Three years ago my wife was looking at the standings and said you have to keep going for 1,000 and I said, ‘What! Who are you? Where is that coming from? [laughing] When do I actually follow stats and numbers? If we get there, we get there. If we don’t, I’m happy to retire.’ I kind of got her riled up. She said, ‘you can’t retire without winning 1,000.’ I said, ‘I might retire before then! I’ll ride and enjoy my time and if it happens it happens and if it doesn’t, it doesn’t.’ That’s the conversation I had three years ago.”

On how long he will keep riding: “If I’m healthy and getting the opportunities that I want. I want to ride the good races. If I’m still getting the opportunity and I’m healthy and they’re still riding me – I’ll ride for a little longer. The day that I feel I’m not having fun and I’m not having the opportunity to ride the good horses, I can say bye anytime. I’m happy with what I’ve done and I’m doing what I’m doing because I’m happy and I love what I do. I don’t have to do it but I’m enjoying it.”

Bill Mott, winning trainer of Precursory (No. 8): “It was good. It’s very special. He’s a great rider and we’ve ridden him for a number of years. To win one that he set this record on is very meaningful. He’s won a lot of races for me and ridden for us for the last 25 to 30 years.

“When they come down to a photo finish, if you’re betting, you might want to put your money on him. He’s been very tough when it comes down to the wire.

“Funny enough, he won the meet here in his first riding title [1998] on one of our horses [Clever Actor] in the last day of the meet. He was tied and he won on a horse for Mr. [Bruce] Lunsford.”

Ron Anderson, agent for Velazquez: “It’s just amazing. He’s so respected and so loved by everybody, and you know, he works tirelessly for all these kids. You have no idea. The days off he is on the phone for hours. He’s a special person and I’m along for the ride, but it’s all about him. They’ll be talking about him 50 years from now with what he did, trying to help the [Jockeys’] Guild and everybody. I have so much respect. This is way up there. Very special. At this point, I’m glad to be along for the ride.”

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