John Velazquez: 5 Things About Legendary Jockey Returning For 2019 Kentucky Derby

He’s won the Kentucky Derby before. John R. Velazquez will try to win his third ‘Run for the Roses,’ so get all the details about this Hall of Fame rider.

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Can John R. Velazquez, 45, do it again? The acclaimed jockey, who has tasted victory at the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes twice, is looking for another win at Churchill Downs. When the 2019 Kentucky Derby kicks off at May 4, many eyes will be on John. Can he defy the odds and beat out the 19 other horses in the “run for the roses?” Before it happens, here’s what you need to know about him:

1. That’s right – he’s in the Hall Of Fame. When John R. Velazquez, 45, saddles up for the 145th running of the Kentucky Derby, he’ll do so as one of the most decorated riders in the race. A winner of over a dozen Breeders’ Cup races, three separate Triple Crown races, and two Eclipse Awards for Outstanding Jockey. He raced to his 5,000th win in 2013 and was the leading money-earning jockey in the history of the sport in 2014. It’s no surprise that he would be admitted into the Horse Racing Hall of Fame, being inducted into the prestigious hall in 2012.

2. He’s won the Kentucky Derby before. John, born in Carolina, Puerto Rico, began riding horses when he was one and a half-years-old. In 1990, he won his first race at Canovanas, Puerto Rico. After moving to New York State that very same year, he won his first stakes race at the Aqueduct Racetrack in Ticonderoga. That would lead him to the winner’s circle at Churchill Downs in 2011. He found his way back to the circle in 2017, when he won while atop Always Dreaming. 

While riding on Animal Kingdom, John came up from the outside, passing three horses in the last stretch to win. John was actually not supposed to be at the race, but he was tapped to replaced Robby Albarado after the jockey suffered an injury. “It was a loss for Robby, and a win for me,” John said after the win, per CNN. “I’m very proud (of Animal Kingdom).”

3. He’s due for a win. His last major win came at the 2017 Breeder’s cup, so he’s hungry for another shot at glory. However, it’s not like he’s starving for a W. On Nov. 20, 2018, he earned his 6,000th win (that’s not a typo) on top of Singapore Trader.

4. The Little Mermaid has a special place in his heart. Never doubt the power of a Disney movie. When John came to the United States, he lived with fellow Jockey Angel Cordero Jr. While staying with Angel, John learned how to speak English while watching The Little Mermaid with Angel’s daughter, Canela, according to the New York Daily News.

5. He’s active in charity work. John is married Leona O’Brien, daughter of trainer Leo O’Brien. They have two children together – daughter Lerina and son Michael Patrick. When he’s not riding horses to victory or raising his kids, he’s working with the board of the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund.

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