It is not easy being a
jockey in New York, even for one of the stars of the rider colony like John Velazquez. The competition is fierce and so is the criticism sometimes. Johnny
V. entered this weekend’s racing with only three victories in 46 mounts for .07
win rate, which does not even put him in the top 15 in the jockey standings. He is used to battling for the leading
reader title at every meeting.
On this Memorial Day Card
there was the Sands Point (G2) on the turf followed by three of very contentious
grade one stakes. The day did not begin very well for Velazquez. In the Sands
Point he was up on the big favorite (.85-1) Somali Lemonade for Michael Matz. All that one could muster was a
mild rally to reach 4th place.
At Belmont there is a certain faction of fans who like to let the
jockeys know when they think that a rider’s performance is not up to par. After
the Sands Point they let JRV know loud and clear.
The Sands Point was won by
Darley’s Better Lucky, who was
making her first start on the turf for trainer Tom Albertrani. In the contest
before, the lightly raced four year-old colt Buffum returned to the races with another very impressive win for
Albertani and the Darley/Godolphin Stables.
Next up was the Ogden
Phipps for fillies and mares who are three years-old and up. Things did not get
any better for Velazquez. Awesome Maria was another big favorite at .75-1 and was on a six race win streak. She failed
to fire and finished a “non-threatening third” according to the chart. Walking
up the tunnel the fans let loose on Johnny again, but this time he pointed out
to the critics what he thought of them. He angrily did the pointing with his
In Velazquez’s defense,
Awesome Maria’s trainer Todd Pletcher spoke up and took the blame, “I think I did a
really poor job preparing her for this race. We stayed in Florida too long, got
rained on a lot, missed a couple of works down there. Then I tried to make up
for it here and breezed her on a sloppy track. I really did a bad job
preparing her for this race.”
Ogden Phipps was won by It's Tricky for Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin which gave Darley/Godolphin its third win in a
row. This was It’s Tricky’s third grade one stakes win. While running in New
York she has eight wins and one second in nine starts.
he did not have a mount in the Acorn so that fans would have to find a new
target, but they did not get the chance as the even money favorite Contested raced to an easy uncontested
victory. The Bob Baffert trainee
recorded her fourth win in a row and her first grade one in wire-to-wire
the much anticipated Met Mile was to be run and many were calling it the race
of the year. To Honor And Serve went
off the favorite and Velazquez was on the third choice Shackleford. This time Johnny V. rode a masterful race with
Shackleford on the lead shutting off a rail trip for To Honor And Serve.
Shackleford then held off the late charging Caleb's Posse to win by a nose. This marked the first time since Native Dancer that a Preakness winner had won the Met Mile.
Dale Romans had praise for the horse and the jockey, “I
thought coming off the turn he was going to be tough to get by. When they hit
the wire, I thought he won. Ten jumps out, I didn’t know whether [Caleb’s
Posse’s] momentum was going to carry him on by us, but when he hit the wire I
thought we won. Johnny is one of the best riders of all time. He knows what
he’s doing. He rode a perfect race.”
John Velazquez shook off his bad loses
with the big favorites, and
a great day of racing ended with a
great jockey making a point to his critics in the stands at Belmont Park.
Met Mile photo courtesy of NYRA