John Velazquez Gets 1000th Career Win at Saratoga

  • 3 min read

The numbers have never meant much to Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez.

The one he got to on Aug. 25 might as he grows older.

The 50-year-old Velazquez wrote another chapter in the Saratoga history books when he won his 1,000th career race at Saratoga Race Course. No one has ever won more.

It came in the eighth race, a maiden event, when he rode the Bill Mott-trained Precursory  to victory by a neck. 
When he returned to the winner's circle, there was loud applause from what was left of the 24,977 in the grandstand, the clubhouse, and the track apron.

An overflow crowd of friends and family spilled into the winner's circle. Many of the jockeys he competes with day in and day out got into the winner's circle picture as a sign of their respect. 

Velazquez could not stop smiling.

"By far, this is one of the best ones," he said when asked where this ranks with his accomplishments. 

However, if one knows Velazquez, one knows he doesn't put a lot of stock into numbers, no matter how big. Of his 6,440 wins, 1,000 of them have come at Saratoga.

He has five Saratoga riding titles. He has won the Kentucky Derby (G1) three times; the Belmont Stakes (G1) twice, ditto the Travers (G1). He has a pair of Eclipse Awards as the nation's outstanding jockey. The list can go on and on.

"Really, I never looked at numbers, that was all for you," Velazquez said, surrounded by media members in the winner's circle. "This is a special number. Three years ago my wife was looking at the standings and said I had to keep going for 1,000. I said, 'What?! Who are You?! Where is that coming from?' I said, 'If we get there, we get there. If we don't, I'm happy to retire.'"

Velazquez said that got his wife, Leona, all fired up. His wife, he said, told him he could not retire until he got to the magic number.

The jockey just laughed that off, he said, and continued to do his job. The wins kept coming. And, on Aug. 25, the biggest one. Velazquez has been the leading rider in Saratoga history for quite some time. His closest competitor is Javier Castellano, who has 752.

Velazquez said he has not thought about retirement. He still feels good, still competes at a high level. After 31 days of the 40-day Saratoga meet, he has a respectable 17 wins.

Long gone are the days when he would sit atop the jockey standings, like in 2004 when he won 64 races during the meet, which was then a record. But he is still a force day in and day out.

"If I'm still getting the opportunity and I'm healthy and they're still riding me, I'll ride for a little longer," he said. "The day that I feel I'm not having fun and I'm not having the opportunity to ride the good horses, I can say bye anytime."

Listen to Mott, who watched Velazquez get his filly, Precursory, owned by Juddmonte, to the winner's circle.

"When they come to a photo finish, if you're betting, you might want to put your money on him," Mott said. "He's been very tough when they come down to the wire. To win the one that he set the record on is very meaningful."


Photo credit: Tod Marks/Saratoga Special