John Velazquez, a native of Puerto Rico and a two-time Eclipse award winning jockey, has been selected by a vote of his peers as the 2009 winner of the Santa Anita George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award. The Woolf Announcement was made Feb. 19 on HRTV by retired Hall of Fame jockey and past Woolf winner Gary Stevens.
Presented annually by Santa Anita since 1950, this year marks the 60th presentation of one of racing’s most prestigious awards. The Woolf Award honors and recognizes those riders whose careers and personal character earn esteem for the individual and the sport of Thoroughbred racing.
The Woolf Award was created to honor and memorialize Woolf, who was known as one of the greatest riders of his era and who died soon after a spill at Santa Anita on Jan. 13, 1946. The Woof trophy is a replica of the full-size statue of the late jockey which adorns Santa Anita’s Paddock Gardens area.
Velazquez, 37, was America’s leading money-winning and Eclipse Award winning jockey in 2004 and 2005, and he is currently riding full-time at Gulfstream Park in Florida. He moved from Puerto Rico and began riding in New York in 1990, where he has amassed 24 riding titles at Aqueduct, Belmont Park and Saratoga.
A winner of the 2007 Belmont Stakes aboard the filly Rags to Riches, who was conditioned by one of his primary clients, Todd Pletcher, Velazquez has won six Breeders’ Cup races and numerous other stakes nationwide. In 2004, he won the Bill Shoemaker Award for top Breeders’ Cup performance by a jockey, as he took the Distaff with Ashado and the Sprint with Speightstown.
Velazquez, born Nov. 24, 1971, got his 4,000th career win on Sept. 28 at Belmont Park. His recent stakes victories include a win aboard the Pletcher-conditioned Cowboy Cal in the Gr. II Strub Stakes at Santa Anita on Feb. 7.
“Johnny V.” as he is known in racing circles, has long been regarded as a leader among his peers and he commands the respect of horsemen and media throughout the racing world. Velazquez first came to New York at the best of fellow Puerto Rican and retired Hall of Fame jockey Angel Cordero, who currently serves as his agent.
Velazquez is married to the former Leona O’Brien, daughter of trainer Leo O’Brien. They have two children, a daughter, Lerina, and a son, Michael Patrick. The Velazquez’s reside permanently in New York.
Velazquez will receive the Woolf Award at Santa Anita in late March or early April, with a specific date to be announced shortly.