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Velazquez At Last Adds Preakness to Expansive Resume

John Velazquez had won enough marquee races that his lack of a Preakness Stakes (G1) winner was hardly a gaping hole in his resume. It was more of a minor oversight that he just hadn’t gotten to.

After three wins in the Kentucky Derby (G1), two in the Belmont Stakes (G1), 19 in Breeders’ Cup events, and a Dubai World Cup (G1)—among more than 6,500 victories that have made him the sport’s all-time earnings leader—the Hall of Fame jockey wasn’t exactly losing sleep over having never ascended Pimlico Race Course‘s infield cupola. 

That said, Velazquez was very aware he hadn’t won the middle jewel, and so were others, from the NBC Sports talent that mentioned it year after year, to trainer Bob Baffert, who brought it up before the race. 

“He said, ‘Your window is closing, so you’d better win this one,’ Velazquez laughed. 

Baffert also put it another way: “I told him his expiration date is getting a little bit close.”

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With that, the oldest rider in this year’s Preakness at 51 years young went out and showed why he is still sought after by Baffert and other top trainers, piloting National Treasure  to a head victory over Blazing Sevens  and completing a career Triple Crown in the process. 

Breaking from the rail, National Treasure effortlessly assumed the lead, which was the easy part. From there Velazquez got his mount to relax and run a second quarter in :24.57, maintaining his advantage while letting the Quality Road   colt stride as mechanically and efficiently as possible.

“I wanted to get him a really good rhythm,” Velazquez said. “I knew there wasn’t a lot of speed, but I saw Irad (Ortiz Jr., on Blazing Sevens) warming up his horse, and I knew he was going to put pressure to the other horse with a little bit of speed. And that’s why when I broke OK I went towards the middle of the track, to make sure I put him over there, and if they want to go any faster, let them go in front. Just a little strategy.”

Those endless instant decisions that make up “a little strategy” are also what add up to 6,500-plus winners. The trainer of runner-up Blazing Sevens, Chad Brown, acknowledged afterward that the wide trip Velazquez helped to cause probably cost him the race. 

A native of Puerto Rico, Velazquez moved to New York in 1990. He lived with retired riding legend Angel Cordero, a fellow Puerto Rican who would later become his agent. For many years Velazquez rode first-call for Todd Pletcher and their careers grew in tandem into the dominant force in New York racing at Saratoga Race Course and Belmont Park during the 2000s. Velazquez earned two Eclipse Awards as Outstanding Jockey in 2004 and 2005 and his top horses have included some of the most popular runners of the past three decades: Da Hoss, Ashado , Rags to Riches , Animal Kingdom , and Wise Dan .

The past few seasons Velazquez has ridden at Santa Anita Park during the winter, which has helped him land on some of Baffert’s fastest 3-year-olds. With horses like National Treasure to ride, Velazquez doesn’t give much thought to closing windows or expiration dates.

“The excitement and everything that you get is still like it was 25 years ago,” he said Derby Week. “The fire is still burning.”

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