A reoccurring theme in this year’s Triple Crown has been the game of musical chairs among jockeys.
It couldn’t have worked out more beautifully for Calvin Borel, who rode Mine That Bird to victory in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) and was aboard the Preakness (gr. I) winner, Rachel Alexandra.
The rider attempts an unprecedented sweep of the Triple Crown in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I). Rachel Alexandra is sitting out the Belmont, and Chip Woolley, the trainer of Mine That Bird, was delighted to get his Derby rider back. No other jockey in the history of the three races has won all three events in the same year with two different horses.
While things unfolded magically for Borel, other riders suffered frustration.
John Velazquez was fired-up for the Kentucky Derby because he had the mount on the Jimmy Jerkens-trained Quality Road . The talented colt won the Florida Derby (gr. I) over Dunkirk, and many handicappers were touting Quality Road as the horse to beat in the Derby. Then the week of the Run for the Roses.
Velazquez found himself scrambling for a horse after Quality Road was declared from the race because of a bothersome quarter crack.
“I can’t tell you, what a disappointment that was,” Velazquez said June 4.
In the Belmont, Velazquez rides Dunkirk, the third choice at 4-1. Surprisingly, it is the first time he will be aboard Dunkirk, who is trained by his main benefactor, Todd Pletcher.
The scenario is not unlike the 2007 Belmont Stakes. Velazquez had never ridden the Pletcher-trained Rags to Riches, but picked up the mount and won the Belmont aboard the filly who was owned by Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith, who are partners in Dunkirk with Susan Magnier. Garrett Gomez, the filly’s rider up to that point, stuck with Hard Spun, whom he had committed to before Pletcher declared Rags to Riches a runner in the final leg of the Triple Crown.
Rags to Riches provided Velazquez and Pletcher with their first – and to date – only victory in a Triple Crown race.
“It was destiny with Rags to Riches, and I guess destiny now that I am aboard Dunkirk,” Velazquez said.
Gomez rode Dunkirk in two races, including his runner-up finish in the Florida Derby. Edgar Prado was also aboard for two starts, including the colt’s 11th-place finish in the Kentucky Derby.
Velazquez said he is happy he got a feel for Dunkirk in his final work for the Belmont on May 31. Velazquez also got a sense for Dunkirk in a workout in company while astride stablemate Munnings in an earlier breeze leading up to the Belmont.
“It didn’t matter that I hadn’t been on Rags to Riches before the Belmont because she was (easy to handle), but I’m happy I’m familiar with Dunkirk,” Velazquez explained. “He can be aggressive and he doesn’t want you to take a hold of him. When I dropped my hands in the work, he leaned right back into me. It’s good that I know that about him.”
The rider will be clocking Charitable Man, the likely pacesetter, and keenly aware of Mine That Bird, who figures to be launching his patented late move.
“I’ll probably be in the middle of them,” Velazquez said. “I have to time it right in terms of getting to Charitable Man and keeping an eye out for Mine That Bird.”
After all, perfect timing has a plenty to do with getting mounts and winning races.