Velazquez Hopes to be Riding Before Belmont

by Claire Novak

Jockey John Velazquez, sidelined with a fractured right shoulder blade and cracked ribs after a Keeneland racing accident April 20, said he may return to racing before the June 10 Belmont Stakes (gr. I).

The 34-year-old jockey began working horses for trainer Todd Pletcher May 24 at Belmont Park, and a recent examination from his physician confirmed that his shoulder injury wouldn't sustain further damage if he were to compete again.

"Basically, he told me I could race tomorrow if I wanted to," Velazquez said May 26. "Everything is looking very, very good, so he said I could go ahead and do what I need to get strong again. I started jogging last week, and now I'm working one horse each morning."

Velazquez missed riding in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) and the Preakness Stakes (gr. I) after his Pletcher-trained mount, Up an Octave, broke down galloping out after the finish of Keeneland's $110,600 Forerunner Stakes in late April. He initially expected to be off his mounts until mid-July, but was pleasantly surprised by his rapidly improving physical condition this week.

"I said I'd like to come back for the Belmont, but I'll probably surprise everybody–including myself–and be racing before then," Velazquez said. "I'm feeling very good, and it's looking like I'll be able to come back much sooner than I originally thought."

While stating that race riding within the next two weeks is "realistic," the two-time Eclipse Award winner cautioned that he would not compete unless he felt confident in his level of fitness. "I need to know that I'm able to compete, 100%," he said. "After working horses for the past few days, I'm starting to get that feeling. I just need to build up my strength."

As far as potential Belmont mounts are concerned, Velazquez currently has his choice of two Todd Pletcher trainees–Kentucky Derby runner-up Bluegrass Cat (ridden by Ramon Dominguez) and Sunriver, who won the May 20 Peter Pan Stakes (gr. II) at Belmont under Rafael Bejarano. Velazquez was the regular rider for both horses before his injury.