Jockey John Velazquez said he feels blessed to be back in the saddle so soon after suffering serious injuries during a race at Keeneland in April. He also is looking forward forward to piloting Bluegrass Cat, who was made the 3-1 morning-line favorite, in Saturday's Belmont Stakes (gr. I).
"I just feel very blessed to have come back so quickly," the 34-year-old rider said Thursday morning at Belmont Park. "I feel fine and I am just taking it day by day and getting on more horses every day."
Velazquez is gauging his return very cautiously. He has two mounts on the Thursday card, three on Friday, and four on Saturday. In addition to Bluegrass Cat Saturday, he will also be aboard the Todd Pletcher-trained English Channel in the Manhattan (gr. IT), Keyed Entry in the Woody Stephens Breeders' Cup (gr. II), and Vicerage in the True North (gr. II).
Velazquez is very optimistic about Bluegrass Cat's chances in the 1 1/2-mile race, saying he expects to be close to the early pace. "After that, I just have to be patient and hopefully I have something to fight with," he said.
Velazquez was injured after the Forerunner Stakes at Keeneland when his mount, Up an Octave, was galloping out after winning the race and broke down, tossing the jockey and then rolling over him. Up an Octave suffered a compound fracture in his left front leg and was euthanized.
The rider watched Bluegrass Cat, under Ramon Dominguez, finish second to Barbaro in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I). "I was at home and I really wasn't feeling very well at the time, to be honest I was feeling crappy, so when you don't feel very good you just try to put everything out of your mind. At that time I did not believe I would be back for the Belmont."
The two-time Eclipse Award winning rider made his return to the saddle with a win aboard Mr. Sam I Am June 2 at Belmont. Since then he has steadily been getting on more and more horses. "Coming back and winning on the first horse I rode felt really good," Velazquez said. "Just being here is special."
The rider was initially not expected to return to action until late June or early July. He credits his quick recovery to weekly acupuncture treatments and regular massage therapy sessions.
"I'm doing a lot better than I expected to be at this time," he said.