The term “living legend” is thrown around far too loosely, but in the case of John Velazquez, he has absolutely earned that distinction. Velazquez has the sixth-most wins among active riders with over 5,500, and is the all-time highest money earner with over $345 million in purses, a number that grows larger by the week. It’s no wonder he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2012.
Velazquez got started in the United States at just 18 years of age after learning to ride horses in his native Puerto Rico, and it wasn’t too long before he was discovered by legendary jockey Angel Cordero Jr., who took Velazquez under his wing as his mentor and agent. Velazquez has travelled all across North America in his career that’s spanned over two decades, but he’s widely known for his considerable achievements at the NYRA circuit (where he’s won 24 riding titles), particularly Saratoga.
“Johnny V” became the all-time winningest rider at Saratoga in July of 2013, passing Jerry Bailey (693), and eventually notched his 800th win at “The Spa” on August 22, 2015.
“I’ve been very lucky and blessed,” Velazquez told the media after his milestone victory. “Just to be mentioned with some of the greatest riders [at Saratoga] is incredible.”
“[Velazquez] should be proud because this is the meeting you’re really being looked at,” Cordero commented after his client’s victory. “You can be leading rider at Indiana 100 times and nobody remembers, but if you do it in Saratoga – this is the place everybody wants to be.”
Velazquez’ accomplishments go far beyond Saratoga, of course. He was honored with the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Rider in 2004 and 2005, ranking first in earnings and third in wins each time.
His career earnings have been bolstered by his 13 triumphs in Breeders’ Cup races, his first coming in the 1998 Breeders’ Cup Mile aboard Da Hoss and his latest on Main Sequence in the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Turf.
Velazquez has two-thirds of a career Triple Crown; he won the Kentucky Derby in 2011 (Animal Kingdom) and has taken down two Belmont Stakes (2007 on Rags to Riches and 2012 on Union Rags). His best finish in the Preakness Stakes is second, which he did in 2011 and 2013 (Animal Kingdom and Itsmyluckyday).
And the 44-year-old veteran of the turf hasn’t lost a step, as he’s winning at a 20% clip in 2016 and currently ranks fourth in earnings.
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