John Velazquez won his first Breeders’ Cup race in 1998 and over the next two decades he has won 15 more, including three runnings each of the Mile and Filly and Mare Turf. In the 35-year history of the Breeders’ Cup, Velazquez ranks second in both wins (16) and purse money won ($27.1 million), behind only Mike Smith (36) and ($35.9 million).
While Velazquez has won nine different Breeders’ Cup races, there is one that has eluded him thus far, the Classic. In what has always been the richest of the Breeders’ Cup events - $4 million when he rode his first Classic in 1998 and $6 million now - Velazquez is 0 for 18 in the main event. In a career in which he’s won 6,135 races and more North American graded stakes than any jockey in history, the oh-fer in the Classic gnaws at Velazquez.
“It’s definitely missing big time,” said Velazquez, who three times has finished second in the Classic.
Watch the 2019 Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita live on Sky Sports Racing (Sky 415 | Virgin 535) on Friday 1st and Saturday 2nd November.
This year, Velazquez has perhaps his best chance at winning the Classic when he pilots the 3-year-old CODE OF HONOR for trainer Shug McGaughey and owner William S. Farish at Santa Anita on November 2nd. Code of Honor was one of the favorites for last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile but was scratched the morning of the race due to a temperature.
The beginning of Code of Honor’s 3-year-old year was spotty. In three starts at Gulfstream Park, he finished fourth in the Mucho Macho Man Stakes, won the Fountain of Youth and was third in the Florida Derby. He put in a solid performance in the Kentucky Derby, finishing third before being elevated to second when the Churchill Downs stewards disqualified Maximum Security from first.
Following a freshening, Code of Honor has reeled off three consecutive victories. The streak began in the Grade 3 Dwyer at Belmont on July 6th. He then won the Grade 1 Travers at Saratoga on August 24th. Most recently, Code of Honor crossed the finish line second in the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup, but was placed first when Vino Rosso came out and bumped him in the stretch and was disqualified by the stewards.
Velazquez believes Code of Honor has made giant strides mentally since the Kentucky Derby.
“That’s what he was missing,” Velazquez said. “He showed you he was capable to do anything but in his races he needed to pay more attention to the things you wanted him to do. He’s done that since after the Derby.
“He relaxes better, you can put him wherever you want, he’s more manageable he’s more mature for the things that we’re expecting of him,” Velazquez added.
Code of Honor is just one of several major contenders Velazquez has for this year’s two-day Breeders’ Cup meeting at Santa Anita on Friday 1st and Saturday 2nd November.
On the Friday, Velazquez will ride EIGHT RINGS, the likely favorite for the $2 million Juvenile, and BAST, a likely favorite, in the $2 Juvenile Fillies. Both of those horses are trained by Bob Baffert.
It was aboard Eight Rings, in the Grade 1 American Pharoah Stakes at Santa Anita on September 27th, that Velazquez recorded his 661st graded stakes victory in North America, eclipsing the mark of 660 established by fellow Hall of Fame Jerry Bailey. Velazquez said he will look back at achievements like that after he retires.
Velazquez said Eight Rings won despite not being completely focused.
“Definitely a running son-of-a-gun but he definitely doesn’t have his mind on his business 100-percent,” Velazquez said. “They knew that anyway. Probably that’s why they put the blinkers on him to get him to focus a little more.”
On that same September 27th card, Velazquez rode Bast to victory in the Grade 1 Chandelier Stakes. Bast was sent off as the 1-5 favorite but she only won by a neck. Baffert warned Velazquez before the race that Bast wasn’t quite as fit as Eight Rings.
“She’ll be much better for the Breeders’ Cup,” Velazquez said Baffert told him. “He felt with what he had done with her she was going to be good enough to win the race. It’s great input when you come back and the trainer tells you that.”
Velazquez won last year’s Filly and Mare Turf with SISTERCHARLIE, and he will be back aboard that mare in this year’s renewal of the $2 million Filly and Mare Turf. Sistercharlie has won six consecutive Grade 1 stakes and, along with Midnight Bisou in the Distaff, figures to be one of the shortest-priced favorites on the Breeders’ Cup card (Mike Smith rides Midnight Bisou).
Last year, Sistercharlie came into the Breeders’ Cup having missed time due to a foot bruise. This year, she enters having won the Grade 1 Flower Bowl at Belmont Park on October 6th.
“If she runs the same race that she ran last year I think she’ll be really tough,” Velazquez said. “She hasn’t done anything wrong yet this year. Hopefully, she continues that going forward.”
Velazquez will turn 48 three weeks after the Breeders’ Cup. As long as he continues to get the opportunity to ride good horses like the ones he has for the Breeders’ Cup, he will continue to ply his trade.
“The good horses, the big races keep you coming back,” Velazquez said. “If I’d be bouncing around, getting on horses that are not getting me excited and getting me to the good races I can say bye-bye any time.”