Velazquez Returns a Winner at Belmont Park

By Claire Novak
Jockey John Velazquez returned a winner in his first start since being sidelined in an April 20 racing accident at Keeneland. Making a comeback from injuries that included a broken shoulder and cracked ribs, the 34-year-old rider piloted the maiden Mr Sam I Am to a 2 3/4-length win for trainer Todd Pletcher in Belmont Park's fourth race on Friday.

"There's always some emotion when you come back from an injury," said Velazquez, who reached down to pat his mount's neck as he rode under the finish line. "You just have to thank God that you can come back and do something you love."

Velazquez rode just off the pace at the beginning of the six-furlong maiden special weight race on the inner turf course, chasing leader Dixie Baghdad into the turn.

"We were in a good position, right where we wanted to be going into the race and I just hoped he'd have something left going into the lane," Velazquez said.

He saved ground and sent his mount through on the inside to give the 3-year-old gelding his first career win for owner Lawrence Goichman.

"My horse responded great and it worked out pretty well," Velazquez said. "He ran good and it was actually pretty simple."

Mr Sam I Am (Forest Wildcat – Quiet Rumor) ran the distance in 1.10.78 and paid 4.50, 3.50, and 2.80 as the 6-5 favorite.

"I'm much fitter than I thought I'd be," Velazquez said. "It feels really good. I thought I would have some trouble breathing, and racing is different than working horses in the mornings."

The jockey said he'll be "100%" for the June 10 Belmont Stakes (gr. I) when he'll ride Bluegrass Cat for Pletcher.

"I could ride three or four horses a day, but I want to take it little by little," he said. "I'm actually better than I thought I'd be."