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Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez to ride fulltime at Santa Anita this winter

Jockey John Velazquez sprays champagne after riding Medina Spirit to victory at the Kentucky Derby
Jockey John Velazquez sprays champagne after riding Medina Spirit to victory at the Kentucky Derby on May 1 at Churchill Downs.
(Brynn Anderson / Associated Press)

Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez will be riding fulltime at Santa Anita this winter, the first time the native of Puerto Rico has done so. Velazquez, 50, still is considered one of best riders in the game, having won four Kentucky Derbies and 18 Breeders’ Cup races.

Velazquez will stay at Santa Anita through the Santa Anita Derby on April 9, when he will move to Keeneland, then to the Kentucky Derby before heading to New York for the Belmont Park and Saratoga meetings. In between, he’ll be riding in major races whenever called upon anywhere in the country and world.

“We’re kind of looking forward to a change,” said Ron Anderson, the agent for Velazquez and Joel Rosario. “[Trainer] Bob [Baffert] will obviously support us as will a lot of other trainers. We’ve already gotten a lot of interest.”

Trainer Bob Baffert has agreed to unprecedented screening, observation and testing as a condition of being allowed to run his horses in the Breeders’ Cup next month.

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Velazquez rode Baffert’s Medina Spirit to a conditional win in this year’s Kentucky Derby and a second-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Medina Spirit’s win the Derby is under review after a positive test for a legal medication, but not legal on race day. Velazquez also won last year’s Derby for Baffert aboard Authentic.

Last year, Velazquez rode the winter at Gulfstream Park in south Florida, but making trips to big races whenever they came up. Rosario rode the winter at Santa Anita but will be riding primarily at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas.

“Johnny will ride some at Oaklawn and Florida and Joel will ride some at Santa Anita and Florida,” Anderson said. “They are both obviously very movable.”

The big loser in this is Florida, which will have neither jockey on a somewhat permanent basis. Rosario is considered the favorite for this year’s Eclipse Award jockey title.

Horse trainer Peter Miller is taking a step back from the sport after six of his thoroughbreds died over the last 11 months.

Velazquez coming to Southern California puts him in the company of three other Hall of Fame riders: Kent Desormeaux, 51, Victor Espinoza, 49, and Mike Smith, 56. Flavien Prat, 29, has been the most dominant rider on the Southern California circuit the last few years. Joe Bravo, who relocated from New Jersey, Abel Cedillo, Juan Hernandez and Umberto Rispoli are considered the other most sought-after jockeys in Southern California. Tiago Pereira is leaving Southern California this winter to ride at Oaklawn Park.

In a 31-year career, Velazquez has had 35,010 mounts, with 6,357 wins, and his horses have earned $446,756,576.


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