SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y.— Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez secured his record-extending 1,000th career win at Saratoga Race Course when he guided Precursory to victory in Race 8 on Thursday for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott.
Sent to post at odds of 6-1 in the seven-furlong maiden special weight for fillies and mares 3-years-old and up, Precursory settled in third position before taking a head lead at the stretch call. Tizzy in the Sky, the odds-on mutuel favorite under Joel Rosario, came calling in the final furlong but Precursory responded to left-handed encouragement from Velazquez to win by a neck in a final time of 1:24.04 over the fast main track.
“I was hoping I had something left for her. I said, ‘Come on mama, you’ve got to keep going,’” Velazquez said. “I got her a little closer to that other horse 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.”
Velazquez said he tried to follow his usual day-to-day routine as he approached the milestone.
“I don’t change anything. I’ve been here way too long to start changing things,” Velazquez said. “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.”
The 50-year-old native of Puerto Rico, who was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 2012, is also Saratoga’s all-time leader in stakes wins  and Grade 1 wins .
Velazquez notched the first of his five Saratoga titles in 1998 aboard the Mott-trained Clever Actor. The Hall of Fame conditioner noted the tenacity of Velazquez in the fight to the wire.
“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,” Mott said. “Funny enough, he won the meet here in his first riding title on one of our horses on the last day of the meet. He was tied and he won on a horse for Mr. [Bruce] Lunsford.”
In 2004, Velazquez won the Saratoga title with a then record 64 victories on the season. On September 9, 2001, he visited the Saratoga winner’s circle six times for a single-day record, and on July 27, 2013, he notched his 694th victory here to became Saratoga’s all-time winningest jockey.
The veteran rider lives with his wife Leona on Long Island and are the proud parents of Lerina and Michael Patrick. He reflected on his first visit to the Spa with then jockey and fellow Hall of Famer Angel Cordero, Jr., who is credited with first recognizing the talent of a young Velazquez. Cordero, Jr. would later work as agent for Velazquez until about two years ago and the pair remain close.
“It [Saratoga] was very special for Angel and Angel made it special for me,” Velazquez said. “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.”
In October 2013, Velazquez became North America’s all-time money-earning jockey. He holds the title to this day with purse earnings in excess of $455 million.
A two-time winner of the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Jockey, Velazquez was honored with the George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award in 2009. His Classic scores include a pair of wins in the Belmont Stakes (Rags to Riches, 2007; Union Rags, 2012) and Kentucky Derby triumphs with Authentic (2020), Always Dreaming (2017) and Animal Kingdom (2011). He boasts 18 Breeders’ Cup wins in his storied career.
Ron Anderson, agent for Velazquez, noted the impact the Hall of Famer has had on the Saratoga jockey colony and on the industry as a whole as the chairman of the Jockeys’ Guild Board of Directors.
“He’s so respected and so loved by everybody, and you know, he works tirelessly for all these kids,” Anderson said. “They’ll be talking about him 50 years from now with what he did, trying to help the Guild and everybody.”
By Keith McCalmont/NYRA Press Office
Photo: John Velazquez (Susie Raisher)