Angel Cordero, Jr. and John
Velazquez are proof that one rider enshrined the National Museum of Racing and
Hall of Fame can help another join him. Armando Ayuso and Jorge Velasquez hope
lightening can strike twice.
Ayuso is an apprentice at
Monmouth Park who has Jorge Velasquez handling his book, just as Cordero is the
agent for 2012 inductee John Velazquez. Jorge Velasquez, who became a Hall of
Famer in 1990, was instrumental in getting the 18-year-old to come here from
their native Panama
this past spring.
“Another agent in Florida
called and told me that there was a good bug boy who had graduated from the
jockey’s school in Panama,” said Velasquez. “So I called Armando and asked if
he’d be interested in working together. I thought the Monmouth meet would be
the best place for him.”
When the phone rang,
Velasquez needed no introduction.
“Jorge is very well known in
my country,” Ayuso said in Spanish as he does not yet speak English. “He is one
of the best riders to ever come from there, along with Braulio Baeza, Manny
Yzcaza, Laffit Pincay, Jr. and Jacinto Vasquez.”
While the young jockey might
have been impressed and honored that one of those five Panamanian Hall of
Famers wanted to represent him, there were significant others who needed to be
convinced that the arrangement would be beneficial.
“First I had to talk with
Armando’s mother and tell her that he would live in my home with me and my
family. I had to convince her that we would take good care of him,” said
Velasquez. “Then I had to talk with my wife, Margarita, and that was harder.
She wasn’t too happy about it because in the past we have had other kids I was
helping with their riding careers and they have been, let’s say, ungrateful.”
Margarita, who has been
married to Velasquez for more than 40 years and has three grown children with
him, wanted to support her husband and relented. It turned out better than
“We took him in and we gave
him love,” said Velasquez, who also came to America as a green teenager to
ride. “He has become like another son to us.”
Nonetheless, Ayuso has
suffered culture shock.
“At the beginning it was hard
to make all of the adjustments,” he said. “When I arrived in April the weather
was still cold. I didn’t really know anybody and everything was so different
and strange. It’s been a struggle, but now I’m used to it all. I want to be the
best I can so I have no time to get homesick.”
The young rider recently moved
in with his cousin Elvis Trujillo, who is on his way to a second straight
Monmouth leading rider title and also graduated from the Panamanian jockey
school. But Velasquez is the one he counts on for career advice.
“I rode for 34 years and I
think I know what to tell him about what he is doing right and what he is doing
wrong,” said Velasquez without any hesitation.
The longevity of Velasquez’
career doesn’t tell the whole truth. He retired in 1997 with 6,795 wins from
40,852 mounts and he won close to 100 Grade 1 races. He was in the irons when
Pleasant Colony won the 1981 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, and although
he never won the Triple Crown, he did take two Filly Triple Crowns aboard Chris
Evert (1974) and Davona Dale (1979). Spectacular Bid, Bold Forbes, Desert Vixen
and Fort Marcy were among his other champion
horses, but Alydar is the one with whom he’ll always be most closely
Calling Alydar “the best I
ever rode”, Velasquez was an integral part of what is considered the greatest
rivalry in modern Thoroughbred racing history. With a combined total of less
than two lengths, Alydar and his jockey finished second to Affirmed in the
Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes when Affirmed captured the
last Triple Crown in 1978.
Ayuso, who can yet count a
single overnight stakes among his 39 wins from 305 career starts in 2012, is
paying close attention to his mentor, watching film with him and trying to soak
up as much knowledge as quickly as he can. The other riders in the Monmouth
colony have noticed.
“Everyone in the room likes
him because he’s a nice kid and he’s serious about this profession,” said C.H.
Marquez, Jr. “I’m happy to help him because he really listens when you offer
advice. Some young riders will look at you like, ‘who are you to tell me
anything?’ but he wants to learn and appreciates it.”
Through September 3, Ayuso
was sixth in the Monmouth standings with 34 wins from 265 starts, and business
is brisk. Trainers Kelly John Breen, Patricia Farro, Eddie Broome, Ramon Moya,
Juan Serey and Scott Volk are among those most willing to give the apprentice a
“I like that he’s got Jorge
Velasquez as his agent because it helps to have a Hall of Famer schooling him,”
said Breen. “The kid was pretty good when he first got here and he’s improving
steadily. He still needs to learn more about grass riding and get more polished
on the dirt, but for a young rider, he has a cool composure about him.”
Calling Ayuso “a natural”,
Velasquez said that he is a good gate rider, has good hands, a good seat on a
horse, and patience. Still, he knows that when his charge loses his apprentice
status this month, they’ll both have to dig in deeper.
“He’s built like a jockey, is
a natural light weight, and has the talent to get horses to run for him so that
will help,” said Velasquez, who also represents 2011 Eclipse Award Apprentice
Jockey runner-up Ryan Curatolo. “I’ll take him to New York after the Monmouth meet and we’ll
have a chance to do good in the winter when all of the big name riders are
gone. But we’ll have to work harder for it to happen.”
Velasquez won’t have to dust
off his famed left-handed stick.
“I hope that when I lose the
bug, I can continue winning and I’ll try my best. I always think about the
future. I want to be a good jockey for myself and for my family,” he said. “I’m
very happy when I’m on a horse, especially in the afternoons. I love the
competition, especially trying to out think and out ride everyone else so that
I can win. Jorge always reminds me to get position, save ground, and save the
horse for the end.”
Cordero hardly has to counsel
John Velazquez on riding technique these days, but that wasn’t always so.
“In a way, Armando and I are
like Angel and Johnny,” said Velasquez. “There was a time when Johnny stayed
with him and it was very much the same. I only hope we have the same results
and one day I can see my rider go into the Hall of Fame.”