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Breeders' Cup 2017

John Velazquez Faces a Very Tough Decision


It’s safe to say that we learned a few things over the weekend. Orb dazzled in the Florida Derby and Revolutionary left no one uncertain about his Kentucky Derby contender status. Today we discovered that Shanghai Bobby has been taken off the derby trail and will get some rest before returning later this year. Among other things, we also know that this coming Saturday will be another very big day.

The east and west coast will both be in the spotlight as the Wood Memorial and Santa Anita Derby bring us to only four more weeks until the 139th Kentucky Derby. It all depends on how things turn out in the Wood but if it is good news for one camp it will lead to a decision that could take weeks to figure out under different circumstances. But, time is of the essence and this decision will need to be made very soon.
I mentioned that we learned a lot now that the major preps have started. Included is that, as it stands right now, Verrazano and Orb are top five contenders. However, Johnny V rides them both. So, while we may be up to speed on quite a bit this is the one question that has not yet been answered; who will John Velazquez ride in the Kentucky Derby?
Known for his cool and calm approach to racing world class thoroughbreds, John Velazquez has earned the honor of being asked to ride two of this year’s top Kentucky Derby horses. Inducted into the racing hall of fame last summer, he is most known at this time of year for three spectacular Triple Crown performances. First is the 2011 Kentucky Derby win aboard Animal Kingdom followed by his 2007 Belmont Stakes ride on the filly Rags to Riches and second Belmont win last year with Union Rags. The 41 year veteran has also delivered on many other occasions outside the Triple Crown. However, all signs point to a solid position to deliver again at the Kentucky Derby this year.
But, which horse will he choose if Verrazano picks up where he left off in the G2 Tampa Bay Derby? I don’t think anyone can forget how sharp that performance really was but in case you forgot the best way I can describe is: lights out. The 3 length win without breaking a sweat brought his undefeated streak to three and leads him to Aqueduct and the Wood Memorial this weekend. Here is where he will face the toughest competition of his career and in order to win, Verrazano will need to be ready.
The general reaction is that he will be up for that challenge and the Wood Memorial will be his final race before moving on to Churchill Downs and a chance for Kentucky Derby glory. So, let’s say that the plan remains in place and Verrazano takes care of business this weekend.
My opinion of what Johnny V will decide to do then is that Verrazano will be his derby horse. I could be convinced otherwise but if you disagree then please let me know and maybe I can be swayed. Until then here is my reasoning and why it will take a strong argument to change my mind.
The first is that the history between Johnny V and Todd Pletcher is just too hard to ignore. They have joined forces on almost too many occasions over the years and their success is proof that they can be an intimidating tag team. A result of so many wins is loyalty. Therefore, it’s tough to imagine them not hooking up this year with Verrazano and attempting to win their first Kentucky Derby together.
Secondly, Johhny V is the only race rider that Verrazano is familiar with. In his three lifetime starts and wins Velazquez has been in the irons. The same cannot be said about Orb however as Joel Rosario was in the saddle for all of Orb’s first five races. Included in that stint was a pair of wins but that streak ended at the G2 Fountain of Youth. That was the race that Johhny V took over the reins and guided Orb into the Graded Stakes winners circle for the very first time.
He returned for only his second mount in the Florida Derby. While the ride and the win were fantastic performances his history with Verrazano runs deeper. By that you might think I’m referring to Johnny V riding him first. Actually that’s not the case. When you look a little closer is when you’ll see that his connection to this colt dates back much further than the current Kentucky Derby prep season.
John Velazquez is very familiar with Verrazano’s daddy and he certainly still remembers their quest for the Kentucky Derby together. Because of their history I conclude this relationship as the x-factor for the decision to stick with Todd Pletcher. In 1999, Todd Pletcher tapped Johhny V to take the mount in the career debut for a very promising Juvenile, More Than Ready. After winning, and then again, again, and yes………again, and again (count it 5 in a row to begin his career) More Than Ready and John Velazquez would race together all the way through the 2000 Kentucky Derby. On the first Saturday in May they were in contention and wonderful position but came up short with a respectable 4th place finish. In total, Velazquez took the mount on More Than Ready 12 times in his 17 race career.
Looking back, 13 years ago is when both Todd Pletcher and John Velazquez began to keep getting better year in and year out. As history would have it, they still remain a lethal duo today. When you put the pieces together this story becomes a unique circumstance and snap shot of the rider-trainer relationship that has developed over the years between TP and Johnny V.  
Finally, when you add More Than Ready to the equation it seems as if Pletcher, Velazquez and Verrazano have been a team in the making since 2000. When you look at this way I can only conclude that team Orb had better start looking for another rider. If so, how can you blame Velazquez if he chooses Verrazano as the ship he will sail in search of his second Kentucky Derby victory? 


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Older Comments about John Velazquez Faces a Very Tough Decision...

Johnny is an amazing jockey and so far he's been making great choices. I do assume his legendary agent Cordero has something to do with it. Several jockeys have had to make the same decision. Some succeeded and some fail. It doesn't take away how talented they are. I know whatever decision he makes, win/lose it was a good one. Two great horse's will be an honor to ride.
Thanks, Buckpasser. I'll see if I can make any headway. I'll let you know, if I find anything. Thanks, again.
CFC. You could do it the opposite way, by looking at the jockeys. The Derby media guides have some of the info you are looking for. Also many books about the KD described some of the famous incidents involving the jockeys. I found more information by looking at the jockeys in the Derby then looking at the horses. Also if you have the racing manuals for a particular year that will help you. As I said Arcaro has probably chosen the wrong horse on more occasions. Max Hirsch always said his favorite Derby win was Middleground because he always found Arcaro talented but a prima Donna.
But, I never predicted anything. Other than, you really make sense(must've been a wrong prediction).
let Verrazano win the WOOD, then debate about who is who ? and who is what? you guys are always wrong in predictions, that's why i ignore your comments.
Right. I should've clarified myself better. I went back to circa 1980. After that, it was difficult to retrieve the data, as it became more obscure. If I could get PP's for Ky Derby winners, I would have a better idea. Just didn't know where that info could be obtained.
Causeforconcern. Shut out was ridden by Wayne Wright who picked up the mount when Eddie Arcaro chose Devil Diver. I don't believe Wright rode Shut Out before. Certainly Bill Boland had not ridden Middleground before when Eddie wanted to ride Hill Prince.
Thanks for your input, Buckpasser. Reason why I didn't include Alysheba and Thunder Gulch, was, that my search was for jockeys who were riding the horse for the first time. In regards to Alysheba and Thunder Gulch, their Ky Derby jockey had ridden them before, even though it wasn't most recent.
Middleground won under 16 yr old apprentice Bill Boland. Eddie Arcaro probably holds the record for picking the wrong horse. I know of the two incidents that I mentioned, but I believe there is a third.
You can Eddie Arcaro for a second time on your list. He was committed to riding Middleground in the Derby but made no secret of wanting to ride Hill Prince. max Hirsch released him. Middleground won under
Cause for concern. Alysheba and Thunder Gulch also won when their jockeys chose different horses.
Cause for Concern. You can add Eddie Arcaro to your list. He had the choice of two Greentree runners: Devil Diver and Shut Out, he chose Devil Diver. He also almost chose Coaltown over Citation but Ben Jones told Eddie if he thought Voaltown was better than Citation jones would have put Eddie on him. As I have posted before Willie Shoemaker chose Hill Rise over Northern Dancer.
You're a better man than I, Gunga Din :)
AK's jockey was John Velazquez, not Jerry Bailey.
@amino998: I believe this task might be unattainable. What I did find out, prior to running out of resources, was: 2011-Animal Kingdom(Jockey Jerry Bailey; Former jockey- Alan Garcia); 2009-Mine That Bird(Jockey-Calvin Borel; Former jockey-Casey Lambert); 2002-War Emblem(Jockey-Victor Espinoza; Former jockey-Larry Sterling); 1999-Charismatic(Jockey-Chris Antley; Former jockey-Laffitt Pincay); 1994-Go For Gin(Jockey-Chris McCarron; Former jockey-Jerry Bailey). Going back further, the info starts to get sketchy. Oh, well. I'll keep at it, but, for the most part, it looks too tough.
Another jockey that comes to mind, would be Victor Espinoza, aboard War Emblem.
@amino998: Ha!!! That's what I'm trying to do now. It seems to be a tall, tough task. But, if I do uncover this info, I will dedicate it to you.
CFC>>138 years is a lot of research and since you're the one that posed the question, well....
CFC. Shoemaker chose the wrong one between Hill Rise and Northern Dancer. Alysheba and Thunder Gulch were the second choices as well who went on to victory. You bring up Go For Gin. I think it seems that in many cases when deciding between two horses, the jockey has chosen the wrong horse.
I believe Johnny was originally scheduled to ride Uncle Mo that year, but he scratched due to lung problems, I believe? He picked up the mount on Kingdom because Robby Albarado was hurt. I remember it, and y'all probably know why.

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