2022 Kentucky Derby Jockey Profile: John Velazquez

Profile Picture: J. Keeler Johnson

April 30th, 2022

Who is John Velazquez?

Across the long history of the Kentucky Derby (G1), only 11 jockeys have won the coveted race on three or more occasions. The latest to join the club is John Velazquez, courtesy of victories aboard Animal Kingdom (2011), Always Dreaming (2017), and Authentic (2020).

Born in Puerto Rico, the 50-year-old jockey won his first race in 1990 and has spent the ensuing decades smashing records. Among his 6,400+ career victories are 712 graded stakes wins and 211 Grade 1 wins, including five Triple Crown races and 18 Breeders’ Cup events.

Velazquez won the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Jockey in 2004 and 2005 and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2012. But most impressively, he’s earned more purse money than any other jockey in North American racing history, with his total of nearly $450 million topping the chart by more than $80 million.

On April 9, Velazquez finished second in the Santa Anita Derby (G1) aboard Messier, previously winner of the Robert B. Lewis S. (G3) and Bob Hope S. (G3) under Velazquez’s guidance. The team will reunite in the 2022 Kentucky Derby (G1) at Churchill Downs, where Velazquez will seek a fourth win in the Run for the Roses. Velazquez nearly picked up a fourth Derby win by crossing the wire first in the 2021 renewal, but his mount (Medina Spirit) was later disqualified due to a positive post-race drug test.

Although Velazquez rides well across all racing surfaces (winning at an 18% rate lifetime), his win percentage over dirt and synthetic tracks is significantly higher, sitting at a lofty 23% rate. This is evident when we review Velazquez’s record on dirt at tracks where multiple Road to the Kentucky Derby prep races are contested; across the board, his accomplishments are impressive.

All stats from Jan. 1, 2017 through April 24, 2022. Generated by STATSMASTER, Powered by TrackMaster, an Equibase Company.

Lifetime record over 1 1/4 miles on dirt:
Starts Wins Win % ROI %
263 38 14% -37%

Lifetime record stats compiled by Nazrana Dixon.

Lifetime record in the Kentucky Derby:      
Starts Wins Places Shows Win % ITM % ROI %
23 3 2 0 13% 22% 118%

Velazquez at Aqueduct

A regular presence on the New York circuit, Velazquez has gone 39-for-182 (21%) riding on dirt at Aqueduct over the last five years. A winner of 10 meet titles at Aqueduct since 1996, Velazquez has won many of Aqueduct’s graded stakes at one time or another, including four editions of the Wood Memorial (G2). All four of those winners were trained by Todd Pletcher, who also conditioned Velazquez’s 2017 Kentucky Derby winner, Always Dreaming.

Velazquez at Churchill Downs

Since 2017, Velazquez has gone just 15-for-104 (14%) over the Churchill Downs main track. But since Velazquez’s trips to Churchill tend to coincide with major racing days, the fierce competition has surely contributed to his lower win rate.

Besides, win percentages aren’t everything. Velazquez’s three Kentucky Derby victories speak for themselves, and for his ability to ride 1 1/4 miles on dirt. He’s more experienced than most jockeys over the Kentucky Derby conditions, boasting a 38-for-263 (14%) lifetime record highlighted by a bevy of Grade 1 wins.

In addition to his Derby triumphs, Velazquez has won the Kentucky Oaks (G1) at Churchill Downs aboard Ashado (2004) and Malathaat (2021).

Velazquez at Fair Grounds

Occasional trips to Fair Grounds have proven quite productive for Velazquez. His mounts finish in the money more often than note (winning 18% of the time), and his major victories over the main track include the 2018 and 2007 renewals of the Louisiana Derby (G2).

Velazquez at Gulfstream Park

The leading rider at Gulfstream in 2004 and 2006, Velazquez doesn’t ride as many horses at the Florida track as he once did, though his win percentage on dirt (28%) remains exceptional. On the Road to the Kentucky Derby, Velazquez has won the Florida Derby (G1) and Fountain of Youth S. (G2) five times apiece, while his Road to the Kentucky Oaks highlights include five wins in the Gulfstream Park Oaks (G2) and half a dozen triumphs in the Davona Dale S. (G2).

Velazquez at Keeneland

Over the last five years, Velazquez has been a force to reckon with over the Keeneland main track, going 38-for-136 while compiling a lofty 28% win rate. At the 2020 Breeders’ Cup, Velazquez nabbed a lucrative double, winning the Filly & Mare Sprint (G1) aboard Gamine before guiding Authentic to a front-running score in the 1 1/4-mile Classic (G1).

Velazquez’s lifetime accomplishments at Keeneland are just as impressive. On the Road to the Kentucky Derby, Velazquez has won the Blue Grass S. (G1) and Breeders’ Futurity (G1) twice apiece, while his Oaks trail successes include wins in the Ashland S. (G1) and Alcibiades S. (G1). Velazquez also ranked as leading jockey at the 2005 Keeneland spring meet.

Velazquez at Oaklawn Park

Velazquez has enjoyed plenty of success at Oaklawn through the years, particularly when riding in major two-turn stakes races. Three editions of the Razorback H. (G3), a couple of wins in the Apple Blossom H. (G1) and Southwest S. (G3), plus a success in the Oaklawn H. (G2) -- that’s a solid slate of stakes wins, and three of them have come since 2017.

Velazquez at Santa Anita

A 35-for-110 (32%) record over the Santa Anita main track is pretty impressive. The majority of Velazquez’s victories have come in graded stakes, including the 2019 Gold Cup at Santa Anita (G1), the 2019 American Pharoah S. (G1), and the 2019 Chandelier S. (G1). In the Gold Cup, Velazquez rode future champion Vino Rosso to a determined victory over 1 1/4 miles.

Velazquez’s participation at Santa Anita has picked up in recent years. Since December, Velazquez has gone 23-for-69 (33%) on dirt, bolstering his resume with wins in the Sham S. (G3) and Robert B. Lewis S. (G3) on the Road to the Kentucky Derby. The latter win came aboard Messier.

Velazquez at Tampa Bay Downs

Velazquez’s record over the Tampa Bay Downs main track is nothing short of terrific. Since 2017, he’s gone 12-for-29 (41%). Many of Velazquez’s wins have come in minor maiden and allowance races, where he rides up-and-coming Kentucky Derby contenders trained by Todd Pletcher. In 2017, this partnership struck gold with Always Dreaming, who broke his maiden at Tampa before going on to win the Kentucky Derby.

Going back a bit further, Velazquez has won the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) twice aboard the Pletcher trainees Carpe Diem (2015) and Verrazano (2013). He’s also won the Sam F. Davis S. (G3) twice for Pletcher, guiding Rule (2010) and Destin (2016) to the winner’s circle.