John Velazquez's run of misfortune began when he broke a rib and his right wrist during a tumble at Aqueduct Racetrack in April.
When the 41-year-old jockey returned for the Kentucky Derby, it was not aboard the victorious Orb — the horse he had ridden to victories at the Florida Derby and Fountain of Youth Stakes — but rather on Verrazano, which finished 14th.
Velazquez was trying to reverse his hard luck Saturday when he rode Itsmyluckyday in the Preakness Stakes.
And he nearly did. After winning two preliminary races Saturday, Velasquez and his horse had a solid showing in the Preakness, finishing second to Oxbow. The jockey declared afterward that he is back, having overcome both injuries and misfortune.
Itsmyluckyday paid $7.80 and $5.
"For a second, I thought, 'You know, I might get him,'" Velazquez said with a smile in the jockeys' room at Pimlico Race Course. "But he had enough horse that he could kind of draw away again. I was expecting [the race] was going to be a little more speed. But my horse ran great. Thank God I'm doing good now. Riding some good horses, that's what counts."
After more than 4,000 career wins, the Puerto Rico-born Velazquez said he's become adept at putting victories and defeats — and injuries — in their proper perspective. He said "my whole body is sore" after riding in seven races Friday and preparing to ride in seven more Saturday. He is still getting back in shape after being briefly hospitalized for his Aqueduct injuries.
He won Saturday's eighth race — the Allaire DuPont Distaff Stakes — on Summer Applause, and the 10th race — the Maryland Sprint Handicap — aboard Sage Valley before finishing second in the Preakness.
Velazquez knows it could have been him — instead of Joel Rosario — aboard Orb when the colt won the Kentucky Derby on May 4.
But Velazquez — who won the Derby and finished second in the Preakness riding Animal Kingdom in 2011 — said it was a matter of keeping his word after making a promise to Verrazano's handlers.
"We had to honor our commitment," Velazquez said. "Plus, [trainer Todd Pletcher] is my main man. He's the man that rides me all year long. So I couldn't say at the last minute, 'No, I can't ride your horse.'"
Velazquez had the distinction of having previously ridden two of the Kentucky Derby's favorites — Orb and Verrazano. Verrazano was unbeaten heading into the race.
The conditions at Churchill Downs were sloppy, and Velazquez said that played against Verrazano.
"Listen, I didn't think it was the wrong decision," Velazquez said. "It just happened that it rained, the horse didn't like the track. So everything went against me. Obviously it was two good horses. Orb is a magnificent horse. It was his day."
With the memory of the muddy track fresh in his mind, Velazquez found himself scanning the skies Saturday afternoon. Other jockeys were doing the same. It rained lightly about three hours before the race, but the track was fast by the time the Preakness started.
Itsmyluckyday had finished 15th in the Kentucky Derby with Elvis Trujillo riding.
"He's another horse that didn't run very good in the slop at Churchill Downs," Velazquez said. "Hopefully we can turn this around."
Last summer, Velazquez broke his collarbone and lacerated a kidney, missing more than six weeks.
Working with the Kentucky-based Jockeys' Guild, he's become an advocate for jockeys' health and safety.
"When you come up, you don't really think about accidents," said Velazquez, who is married with two children. "They can happen anytime."
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