Two-time Eclipse Award-winning jockey John Velazquez, who is scheduled to ride in his first race Friday since recovering from injuries suffered at Keeneland in April, says he will be at full strength by June 10 when he rides WinStar Farm's Bluegrass Cat in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I).
Velazquez suffered a cracked right shoulder blade and broken ribs when Vinery Stables' Up an Octave broke down while galloping out after the finish of Keeneland's 1 3/16-mile Forerunner Stakes. The 3-year-old colt, who rolled over on the jockey, was euthanized after suffering a compound fracture in his left front leg.
Initially, Velazquez was not expected to return to competition until late June or early July.
With jockey Ramon Dominguez substituting for Velazquez in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), the Todd Pletcher-trained Bluegrass Cat finished second, 6 1/2 lengths behind the now-injured Barbaro.
Speaking Thursday during a National Thoroughbred Racing Association teleconference, Velazquez said his recovery progressed much quicker than he and his doctors initially anticipated and that he is now fit enough to ride one or two horses a day as he builds up his strength over the next week leading up to the Belmont.
"I am fit, but when it comes to races you have to be stronger than that," the rider said. "That is why I am starting right now. I am fit enough to ride one or two races (daily) but not a full card. Definitely by next week I will be 100%."
In his first mount back, Velazquez is scheduled to ride at Belmont Park on Friday.
Unable to do much except spend time with his family while injured, Velazquez said his recovery was enhanced by regular massage therapy and weekly acupuncture treatments.
"My body responded very good," Velazquez said, noting that as his shoulder improved he began to move his arm and then began to run on his treadmill. It was not long before he committed to riding horses in the mornings and then realized he could probably be back in time for the Belmont.
In describing the accident on Up an Octave, Velazquez said he remained conscious the entire time and was aware of everything that happened as the horse rolled over his back.
"It felt like he broke me in half. I knew I was hurt bad, but I didn't know what was wrong with me at the time," Velazquez recalled
Velazquez said riding in the Belmont at 1 1/2 miles will not pose any greater stress on his body than riding in races at lesser distances. In fact, the jockey said riding in longer races takes less out of a jockey than does a short race.
"It is probably a little easier going mile and a half than going three quarters (of a mile). Going a mile and a half, they are going pretty easy and you don't have to do much. You just wait until your horse is comfortable."
Velazquez said he does not expect Bluegrass Cat to be far off the early pace in the Belmont, but he is not concerned about where the colt is positioned.
"I am really confident in this horse, and it doesn't matter where he runs," Velazquez said.