VELAZQUEZ PROVES BEST OF THE BEST
Rider wins Xpressbet Hall of Fame Jockey Challenge
BALTIMORE, 05-16-14—John Velazquez took top honors, but it was all of his fellow riders who went home winners on Friday afternoon.
Velazquez, 42, compiled 27 points to edge Kent Desormeaux and win the inaugural $50,000 Xpressbet Hall of Fame Jockey Challenge at Pimlico Race Course.
Based in New York, Velazquez won two of four challenge races to finish with a five-point edge over Desormeaux in a competition that featured seven of the eight active Hall of Fame riders.
Also taking part were Northern California-based Russell Baze, North America’s all-time leader with 12,253 victories; Edgar Prado, one of Maryland’s most decorated jockeys with 24 individual riding titles from 1989-99; Mike Smith, who owns a record 20 Breeders’ Cup victories; three-time Kentucky Derby winner Calvin Borel; and 2014 inductee Alex Solis.
Multiple scratches among participants caused separate win and exacta wagering on the four-race challenge to be canceled. The total purse was split evenly among the riders, each receiving $7,142.86.
As part of the event, the Stronach Group, North America’s leading Thoroughbred racetrack owner/operator which includes Pimlico, donated $50,000 to the Permanently Disabled Jockeys’ Fund.
“It’s incredible to have all this talent in one room, all these Hall of Famers,” said Velazquez, who owns one Kentucky Derby and two Belmont Stakes among his 5,132 career victories to go along with two Eclipse Awards and more than $302 million in lifetime purses.
“I am the youngest one, so I have followed a lot of them and I am a big fan of all of them,” he said. “It’s great to be here. It’s a great challenge, for a great cause. I’m glad to be part of it.”
The challenge shared Friday’s card with eight stakes races including the $500,000 Black-Eyed Susan (G2) for 3-year-old fillies and the $300,000 Pimlico Special (G3) for older horses; as well as the fifth and final edition of Lady Legends for the Cure presented by Wells Fargo, a pari-mutuel race featuring eight retired female riding pioneers.
This marked the sixth year for a jockey challenge at Pimlico on the eve of the Preakness Stakes and the first in its new format, bringing together a group that has combined to win nearly 45,000 races and more than $1.6 billion in purses, nine Eclipse Awards, 20 Triple Crown races and 41 Breeders’ Cup races.
Twelve points were awarded for finishing first among challenge participants, six for second, four for third and three for fourth. Baze and Solis tied for third place with 12 points apiece, followed by Prado (six), Smith (four) and Borel (three).
“Unfortunately, a lot of the guys didn’t get to ride most of the races,” Velazquez said. ‘With all the rain, there were a lot of scratches. It would have been a lot more fun if everybody had a little more opportunity to ride in the races and make it a little bit closer, but we can only deal with what Mother Nature throws at us.”
Velazquez captured each of the first two challenge races, finishing first among participants in the second race and winning the fourth race with Coco Punch ($7.80) for trainer Robin Graham to give him 24 points.
Desormeaux, 44, who won two Eclipse Awards, 648 races and $11.7 million in purses at Pimlico during his three years in Maryland from 1987-89, had just four points after two challenge races. He was third among participants in the second race and scratched out of the fourth.
With Velazquez sitting out the sixth race, Desormeaux won with Handsome Harley ($5.20) to cut the lead to 24-16 heading into the final challenge race. Velazquez, who picked up Noor Un Nisa after his original mount was scratched, was fourth in the eighth race while Desormeaux was second.
Baze, 55, and Smith, 48, were each limited to one mount, both in the eighth race. Riding for the first time at Pimlico in his 41-year career and just the third time in Maryland, Baze was first among participants with Seaside, while Smith was third on Dora Dora.
Solis, 50, was second among participants in the fourth and sixth race, and scratched out of the second and eighth. Borel, 47, and Prado, 46, each rode only in the challenge opener, finishing second and fourth, respectively.
Desormeaux won Pimlico’s inaugural Preakness eve jockey challenge over three rivals in 2009, and was second to Javier Castellano in 2010. Switched to an all-female format, the challenge was won by Emma-Jayne Wilson in 2011 and local favorite Rosie Napravnik in 2012.
Wilson repeated her victory last year, when the challenge was tweaked again for a ‘Battle of the Sexes,’ featuring four male and female riders.