OZONE PARK, N.Y. – There was a sense of relief along with that of accomplishment for John Velazquez Friday as he became the 18th jockey to ride 6,000 winners in North America. He accomplished the feat when he rode Singapore Trader to victory in Aqueduct’s fifth race.
Appropriately enough, the milestone came aboard a horse trained by Todd Pletcher, for whom Velazquez has ridden 1,750 winners in his career.
“I guess it was meant to be,” said Velazquez, who noted that his 5,000th winner also came for Pletcher on Galloping Giraffe at Belmont Park on June 14, 2013.
The last few winners came slowly for Velazquez, who at one point endured an 0-for-21 streak after he rode his 5,996th winner on Nov. 11.
“Everybody kept asking me ‘When is it going to happen?’” Velazquez said.
Velazquez tried to downplay the accomplishment.
“It’s another number, I pray to God to stay here for a little while longer, one day I’ll look back and say ‘Well, I accomplished something,” he said. “My job is to come here and win races, that’s what I care about.”
Velazquez is the sport’s all-time leader in purse money won with more than $395.6 million. He will likely become the first rider to surpass the $400 million mark in 2019.
The 6,000th win came just six days after Velazquez turned 47 years old. He rode his first career winner at El Comandante in Puerto Rico in 1990 and immediately moved his tack to New York. He has been a mainstay on this circuit for almost three decades, winning 22 individual meet riding titles and being the winningest rider at NYRA tracks from 2001-04.
In 2013, he became the all-time winningest rider at Saratoga, where he has won more than 900 races.
Velazquez is a two-time Eclipse Award winner and was inducted into Hall of Fame in 2012. He is a two-time Kentucky Derby winner (Animal Kingdom in 2011 and Always Dreaming in 2016), and has won the Belmont Stakes twice (Rags to Riches in 2007 and Union Rags in 2012). He has won 15 Breeders’ Cup races.
Pletcher wasn’t at Aqueduct for the win but he said earlier this week that he marveled at Velazquez’s consistency “at the highest level for such a long time” and said he was proud of the success they had together.
On Friday, Pletcher told NYRA publicity, “winning 6,000 races is a tremendous accomplishment, but what I’m most proud of Johnny for is the person he is: a leader of the jockey community, a caring father, loving husband, friend and mentor to many. These are the qualities that make him so special.”
Velazquez, who hasn’t put a timetable on how much longer he will ride, said his goal is to ride “more winners. That’s what I’m looking for. That’s what you’re here for, to try to do the best job you can do.”
This story originally appeared on DRF.com.
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