For the first time in his illustrious 32-year career, Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez will ride full-time this winter at Santa Anita, beginning with the track’s opening day on Dec. 26.
A 50-year-old native of Puerto Rico, “Johnny V.” as he’s affectionately known, is Thoroughbred racing’s all-time leading money winning jockey, with career purse earnings of more than $446 million from 6,357 wins. A winner of four Kentucky Derbies (G1), including this year’s running with Medina Spirit, Velazquez has won 17 Breeders’ Cup races, including the 2020 Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) with Authentic.
A dominant force on the East Coast for many years, Velazquez, who broke his maiden in Puerto Rico on Jan. 3, 1990, began riding full-time in New York later that year and was soon befriended by legendary Puerto Rican Hall of Famer Angel Cordero, Jr., who served as an invaluable mentor as Velazquez sought to immerse himself in American culture.
When Cordero retired from the saddle, he became Velazquez’s agent in 1998. The results were instantaneous, and they were remarkable, as Velazquez, who rode “first-call” for top trainer Todd Pletcher, would go on to become Saratoga’s all-time leading jockey and become America’s leading rider by money-won in 2004 and 2005, winning the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Jockey honors in both years as well.
Although he enjoyed tremendous success with Cordero, Velazquez shifted gears in late 2019, as he hired superstar agent Ron Anderson, who at the time was working for Joel Rosario, who he continues to represent.
“We’re looking to winter out there instead of going to Florida, we’re looking for some sort of change,” said Anderson, himself a Southern California native. “Johnny’s at a point, we’re looking for good horses, graded stakes and the like…He’ll be in and out (of town) a little bit, but something different. I think he’s very excited about being there. His wife Leona went out and got a place over the weekend.
“He’ll be riding for everybody, Bob Baffert, Doug O’Neill, Richie Baltas, Dick Mandella, everybody. I’ll piece that together as we go. The first condition book came out (Monday) and I’ve already got a few guys that are knocking on the door.”
Far beyond his tremendous success as a rider, John Velazquez, who also serves as Chairman of the Board of the National Jockeys’ Guild and as a board member of the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund, is revered by jockeys and horsemen nationwide for his unwavering commitment to his fellow riders and the betterment of the sport in general.
“He’s one of the greatest guys ever,” said Anderson. “What he does for the Jockeys’ Guild and all the time he puts in, the meetings and following up with individual riders through a lot of situations…He’s just different. He’s really, really a special person at the end of the day. He’s positive, he’s classy, he’s considerate, he’s kind to everybody.
“As a rider, his numbers and his records speak for themselves. He’s the number one leading rider of all-time. You’ll see, he’s just a special person.”
Anderson also noted that although Velazquez will be based at Santa Anita through the month of March, he will also be flying out of town to ride in major stakes such as the $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1) at Gulfstream Park Jan. 29 and other races nationally and internationally as well.
Velazquez, a winner of Santa Anita’s 2009 George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award, also notched a significant milestone at Santa Anita, when he passed retired Hall of Famer Jerry Bailey with his 661stgraded stakes winner aboard the Baffert-trained Bast in the Grade 1 Chandelier Stakes here on Sept. 27, 2019–making him racing’s all-time leading graded stakes winning jockey.
Velazquez will be joining a star-studded riding colony headed by the likes of Flavien Prat, Juan Hernandez, Umberto Rispoli, Joe Bravo, Abel Cedillo and fellow Hall of Famers Kent Desormeaux, Victor Espinoza and Mike Smith.