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Jockey Jorge Velasquez Closing In on the 6,000-Win Milestone

Associated Press

Jorge Velasquez has been a jockey for 27 years and is just a half-dozen victories shy of winning his 6,000th horse race, but he says he’s nowhere near ready to hang up his saddle.

“I feel young, I’ve got lots of business, I’ve got my weight under control and there’s lots of money to be made,” the 5-foot-3, 107-pound jockey said. “I really don’t know when I’d quit.”

Velasquez won seven races at Arlington International Racecourse in suburban Arlington Heights this week, but none on Saturday. He is slated to ride in seven races today and now stands just six victories away from 6,000. If he passes that barrier, he will become only the fifth jockey ever to do so.

Bill Shoemaker is the winningest jockey of all time, with more than 8,800 victories. Behind him is Laffit Pincay, with more than 7,200, and third is Angel Cordero, who has won more than 6,400. Fourth is Johnny Longden, who retired in 1966 with 6,032 triumphs.

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The 42-year-old Velasquez has been racing hard to join that exclusive club, even canceling an annual visit to his native Chepo, Panama, for the festival of St. Christopher later this month.

“I’m chasing this goal, and right now I have the opportunity to continue to win some races,” Velasquez said in a recent interview. “I have to go and pray to St. Christopher to forgive me, but I have to be here.”

Velasquez left Panama in 1965 at the age of 19 after equaling or beating every riding record in his native land. He spent 23 years riding at the big East Coast tracks and in Europe, then came to Arlington this year to try his luck.

John Veitch, who trained Alydar, the horse Velasquez rode to second place in all three races of the Triple Crown in 1978, said Velasquez “measures up with the very best jockeys.”

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“He is a great athlete and also a very good jockey tactically and strategically--all the things you need to do to win races,” Veitch said in a telephone interview from New York.

“It’s a combination--a little bit of everything,” Velasquez said. “You have to be lucky, your agent has to be good, you have to have good mounts. Every little bit helps.”

Although he has never won the Triple Crown, Velasquez has come close twice--once with Alydar and once with Pleasant Colony in 1981, when he won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness but finished third at Belmont.

“The most satisfying race is the Derby because it’s the race with the most prestige,” Velasquez said. “It’s the Super Bowl of racing.”

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Velasquez has suffered only a few spills during his career, but has broken his collarbone twice, and has broken his left ankle and his left arm.

Barring misfortunes, Velasquez should find his way into racing history as the fifth jockey to break 6,000, nosing out Larry Snyder at Louisiana Downs who on Saturday was 32 shy of 6,000.

But he’s unconcerned about the record books. Velasquez rides, he says, not for the glory, but because he loves to ride.

“I’m 42 years old,” he said. “I don’t know how to do anything else.”

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