Kentucky Derby Jockey Profile: John Velazquez

Profile Picture: J. Keeler Johnson

April 29th, 2021

Who Is John Velazquez?

Across the long history of the Kentucky Derby, only 11 jockeys have ever 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 49-year-old jockey won his first race in 1990 and has spent the ensuing three decades smashing records. Among his 6,200+ career victories are nearly 700 graded stakes wins and over 200 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 perhaps most impressively, he’s earned more purse money than any other jockey in North American racing history, with his $430+ million topping runner-up Javier Castellano by about $75 million.

On April 3, Velazquez finished second in the Santa Anita Derby (G1) aboard Medina Spirit, one of an increasing number of horses Velazquez has ridden for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert in recent years. They previously teamed up to win the Kentucky Derby with Authentic and will reunite with Medina Spirit in the 2021 Derby.

What are Jockey John Velazquez's Records related to the Kentucky Derby?

Below are statistics for Velazquez's efforts at racetracks with more than two Road to the Kentucky Derby prep races, plus lifetime data at the 1 1/4-mile distance and Churchill Downs specifically.

Lifetime record over 1 1/4 miles on dirt:

Starts Wins Places Thirds
258 37 42 28
  Win % ITM % ROI %
  14% 41% -41%

Lifetime record in the Kentucky Derby:

Starts Wins Places Thirds
22 3 2 0
  Win % ITM % ROI %
  14% 23% 69%

Lifetime record stats compiled by Ed DeRosa and are through 2020.

All stats from Jan. 1, 2016 through April 20, 2021. Generated by STATSMASTER, Powered by TrackMaster, an Equibase Company

Although Velazquez rides well across all racing surfaces, his lifetime 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 major Road to the Kentucky Derby prep races are contested; across the board, his accomplishments are impressive.

Velazquez at Aqueduct

A regular presence on the New York circuit, Velazquez has gone 50-for-227 (22%) 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 Derby winner, Always Dreaming. The Velazquez/Pletcher partnership has ranked among the most productive in racing over the last two decades.

Velazquez at Churchill Downs

Since 2016, Velazquez has gone just 12-for-97 (12%) 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 37-for-258 (14%) lifetime record highlighted by a bevy of Grade 1 wins.

In addition to his Derby triumphs, Velazquez won the 2004 Kentucky Oaks (G1) aboard Ashado.

Velazquez at Fair Grounds

Occasional trips to Fair Grounds have proven quite productive for Velazquez. His mounts finish in the money more often than not (winning 19% 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 (28%) remains exceptional. On the Road to the Kentucky Derby, Velazquez has won the Florida Derby (G1) and Fountain of Youth (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 (G2).

Velazquez at Keeneland

Over the last five years, Velazquez has been almost unstoppable over the Keeneland main track, going 36-for-112 while compiling a lofty 32% 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 frontrunning 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 (G2) and Breeders’ Futurity (G1) twice apiece, while his Oaks trail successes include wins in the Ashland (G1) and Alcibiades (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), plus successes in the Oaklawn H. (G2) and Southwest (G3)… that’s a solid slate of stakes wins. It’s easy to understand why trainers are eager to enlist Velazquez to ride at Oaklawn—he’s gone 7-for-26 (27%) over the Arkansas oval since 2016.

Velazquez at Santa Anita

A 9-for-40 (23%) record over the Santa Anita main track is pretty impressive, especially when you consider how Velazquez isn’t a frequent visitor to the California circuit. The majority of his victories have come in graded stakes, including the 2019 Gold Cup at Santa Anita (G1), the 2019 American Pharoah (G1), and the 2019 Chandelier (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, and he’s won at a 29% rate since 2019. As mentioned previously, many of his victories have come for trainer Bob Baffert.

Velazquez at Tampa Bay Downs

Velazquez’s record over the Tampa Bay Downs main track is nothing short of extraordinary. Since 2016, he’s gone 16-for-35 (46%), highlighted by a victory in the 2016 Sam F. Davis (G3) aboard Destin. 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 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).