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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


HALLANDALE BEACH, FL — Everyone tethered to Thoroughbred racing is well aware of the three-decade bond that exists between Hall of Famers John Velazquez and the “family” relationship he has with mentor, and long-time agent, Angel Cordero Jr.

The wish is that after their announced split this weekend they will remain family to each other to the end. All this as a result of Johnny’s short and sweet announcement over the weekend that agent Ron Anderson would now be handling his riding engagements from now on.

The jock’s room is like any locker-room in sports, perhaps even more so because actual lives hang in the balance of these relationships–that, and good racing luck.

Jockeys are quick to remind other athletes that their jobs are unique because other sports don’t have ambulances following them on the job.

If he could, know that “Papa” Cordero, who will be 78 in November, would still be riding racehorses if he could, even after doctors advised them his next spill could be his last; debilitating injury or worse.

But the competitive soul that made Cordero one of the G.O.A.Ts of the game still is at the heart of what he does each day. If he had his way, Johnny and jockey Manny Franco would sweep the New York race program every day.

Going against doctor’s orders and insurance company alike, Cordero still got on horses for Todd Pletcher as the world’s most famous exercise rider as he worked to strengthen the bond of Team Pletcher/Velazquez. What they accomplished together is, of course, the stuff of legends.

Like most racetrack lifers, Cordero is driven to succeed, especially after the loss of his beloved wife, Marjorie, who was struck and killed by a car while crossing a street not far from their Long Island home in 2001.

As everyone knows, Johnny lied with his fellow Puerto Rican when he first came to the mainland. Johnny, with so many to follow in his footsteps and live with Angel, Cordero was mentor to them all whether or not he handled their business.

Johnny, meanwhile, also celebrates a birthday in November and will turn 49. Early in 2019, he announced he wanted to slow down, take fewer rides; just quality stock as the great Jerry Bailey did at the end, as Mike Smith currently does now.

Velazquez is a clean living family man, married happily to the former Leona O’Brien since 1994. In fact, it was Smith who introduced Johnny to trainer Leo O’Brien’s daughter.

Clearly, his family has influenced his decision to slow down. While he does ride fewer horses these days, his daily book still is relatively full as he remains very much in demand. And like Bailey, he wins most races relying on his knowledge and athleticism, not the riding crop.

The rift that finally ended the relationship over the weekend was close to a year in the making.

It’s impossible for old school racetrackers and media, for that matter, to think of one without conjuring up the 1A portion of the entry. It is said that the only thing that is constant is change and so all things come to an end, especially so many of the good ones.

This Time,”Days” More Resemble “Weeks”

As it turns out, the Saudis treat their horses better than they do journalists, or their women, for that matter.

Mike Smith and Irad Ortiz Jr., who finished second and fourth, respectively, in a $20 million race in the desert this past weekend, didn’t do as well financially as they ordinarily would have under these circumstances.

The rewards for board-hitting Midnight Bisou and Mucho Gusto for both riders were sharply curtailed when Saudi Jockey Club Steward Phil Tuck confirmed to journalist Jon Lees that serious penalties would be assessed against the now and future Hall of Fame riders.

Smith received an eight-day ban for excessive use of the whip, with an additional day for failing to allow his mount proper time to react after being struck with a whip. Both penalties following another two-day sanction for failing to weigh-in following an earlier race on the card.

In addition, Smith would have to forfeit 60% of his share of the purse, per rule, a fine that will cost the Hall of Famer $210,000.

All visiting jockeys were made aware of the rules via email before arriving in Saudi Arabia and copies of the rules were posted in the jock’s room.

Ortiz Jr., did not receive days for swerving back and forth in the stretch which effectively blocked eventual winner Maximum Security’s path to the finish line.

Instead, Ortiz received eight days for surpassing the 10-strike whip threshold on Friday, and received two more days plus a 10% purse reduction for whipping Mucho Gusto excessively.

At this time it is unknown whether California, in Smith’s case, or Florida, where Ortiz leads the Gulfstream Park riding colony, will recognize these sanctions in the U.S. Typically, racing jurisdictions do affirm penalties levied elsewhere.

HRI’s best guess is that either in a show of good faith and at sure-to-come urging from the Jockey’s Guild, the penalties might be reduced significantly to be more in line with American standards, if they are enforced at all.

“The Jordan Rules” apply in all sports and, absent that, there’s always the chance of a presidential pardon, especially since the Saudis are involved.

From the rules of racing governing the Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia, the following uses of the whip that would be characterized as “mis-use.”

  • Using the whip with excessive frequency and more than 10 times.
  • Using the whip with excessive force.
  • Using the whip with the arm above shoulder height.
  • Using the whip rapidly without giving the horse time to respond (that is twice or more in one stride).
  • Using the whip on a horse which is showing no response.
  • Using the whip on any part of the horse’s head or in the vicinity of the head.
  • The use of the whip in front of the saddle while the whip is held in the forehand position, unless exceptional circumstances prevail.
  • The continued use of the whip on a horse after its chance of winning or being placed is clearly gone.
  • The unnecessary use of the whip on a horse that has clearly won its race or has obtained its maximum placing.
  • Using the whip to the extent of causing injury.
  • Using the whip on a horse which is past the winning post..
  • Using the whip on a horse in any place except on the quarters.
  • Using the whip on another Jockey. 


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17 Responses

  1. No pardon, please. Let the days be served here in USA. Big deal, these guys can use some rest. MAX was not going to lose no matter what Irad had in mind. Fake out, Irad!

  2. JP, You have written about “herding” before. Is what Ortiz did with MG a good example of this? I mean to say a “bad” example. Have to think Bob Baffert was “on board” with this strategy. Great, just what the game needs, another f–k up.

  3. C,
    I would have to watch the replay several times, a little hard because I hate the idea of the U.S. supporting a Saudi Arabian event.

    Off the top, thought of several things; Lights as a factor, unfamiliarity the course, the horse was exhausted and Irad pushed him in whatever direction he was going at the time, though it can be argued that he failed to attempt to straighten his mount.

    The idea of herding collusion between any trainer and a jockey is unrealistic; not provable for one and only the jockey loses business as a result of a possible DQ.

  4. John: For what its worth, I have always believed that Angel was the best jock of all time. However, my experience only goes back to the 70s,
    and I am sure that the 50s /60s fans would advocate for Arcaro. Nevertheless, if one’s life was on the line, I would want Cordero riding for me. As you know all too well, Angel would not only ride his horse to win, he would also “ride” every other horse in the race to lose.
    All that said, Angel has been more than just a mentor to John since Johnny came to NY as a kid. Angel has been like a “father” to John, and John has reciprocated with a career as great as Angel’s.
    When you wrote above that this has been going on for a year, what exactly are you referring to? Is John upset that Angel has been putting Manny Franco ahead of him? Or, is it something else? And, if there is a rift because of Franco, how is hiring Ron Anderson, with Rosario on board, going to change things for Johnny?

    1. Any idea how he got away with Codexing Genuine Risk? If MAX comes down in Derby then Codex, through no fault of his own, has to get yanked in Preakness. All I can come up with is it was AC in saddle and not a lesser known rider. Saw him once playing pinball in saloon at Spa one night. He owned Saratoga. Said hello, seemed like nice fellow. This was late 70’s. Great rider, as you stated above.

      1. Heard Andy Serling this morning rage about people, like me, who HATE when their horse doesn’t win (MAX, etc.). He argued that MAX rightly came down in DY and to get over it. In a way I see his point but I don’t like the fact that his record got blemished by the whim (s) of stewards on a debatable call. Not really on a whim but it’s very subjective. WOW may have played a role in the incident, no? TG likes to ride the rail and it can get a little scary in there. Maybe I’m just drinkin’ the MAX Kool Aid. LOVE that horse.

        1. Certainly allowed to love the horse; that’s what being a fan’s about. Have to agree with Andy on this one, to get over it. Not just you C but any of his fans. It’s racing, stuff happens.

          I believe the stewards handled it poorly in terms of their post race explanations and then failing to answer questions satisfactorily thereafter, casting doubt on their own decision.

          I clearly believe the DQ was justifiable. Did have have to impede the chances of a 4th horse before the take-down would be deserved? Why have racing rules in the first place?

          Why no DQ, because history demanded it because it never happened before? Perhaps there should have been others.

          For the longest time it was geldings that weren’t supposed to win. Then there was the Curse of Apollo. And, BTW, MAX wasn’t the first. Anyone remember the Forward Pass case?

          1. True, plus folks will always find fault with any “ruling.” I guess you’re (and Andy) right, turn the page. Receiving Eclipse Award proves, to me, that he is “loved” by many. Read an interesting tidbit on Riva Ridge. Penny Chenery said that Riva ran to get away from other horses. Very timid horse, she stated, and never once did RR not come over to say “hi” when she visited him after racing career, which was often. Another one to fall in love with. Thanks for the feedback.

      2. Perhaps stewards reticent in taking action, using the “Derby Rule” as a guideline. I do remember, however, that it was cause for the great Joe Hirsch to write an extremely rare critical opinion. To those of us in the press box, that almost was more newsworthy than Angel’s “race-riding.”
        Just thinking, would love to play replays of Codex and Maximum Security head-stretch side by side…

  5. Fram, thought I was clear but I’ll try again.

    Johnny wanted to slow down; Angel wanted to win as many races as possible by also riding for other outfits.

    Johnny stayed on board for a year but wanted to control his own destiny as his career winds down.

    He’s not only earned that right but is entitled; it’s his body out there now…

  6. C, I’m not the biggest Max fan but I voted for him because I thought he had the best record and deserved the honor.

  7. Quoting the article: The rift that finally ended the relationship over the weekend was close to a year in the making.

    Any insight into the rift? As you outlined, the relationship was in stone. A slow burn that lasted a year took it out? What was that?

    Curious also about the hows and why a Ron Anderson would take a guy who only wants to cherry pick. Just because its a fit for Mike Smith and Bailey, doesn’t necessarily mean it will work for John Velazquez. Not that it matters, Con-vin19 changed the world since.

  8. No further insight on the Johnny matter. Burt Ron Anderson has himself another rider with Hall of Fame ability, Joel Rosario. Between the two, I’m sure they’ll get by…

  9. The lore and legend of them working together , and now to see a separation this late in his career. It made me wonder how close they were or who needed the steady money the most. Or as you infer, Angel couldn’t turn the competitiveness down and JR could.

    Good luck to all involved. Thank you for the reply.

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