John Velazquez: “Code Of Honor is the horse to beat”
Racing legend speaks to us ahead of the Florida Derby
Jockey John Velazquez is one of the biggest names in US racing, having captured numerous big races as well as being inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2012.
Known as ‘Johnny V’ to racing fans, Velazquez’s famous victories include two runnings of the Kentucky Derby on Animal Kingdom (2011) and Always Dreaming (2017) along with three victories at Royal Ascot on Jealous Again, Strike The Tiger (both 2009) and Lady Aurelia (2017).
On Saturday, he rides Code of Honor in the Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park (10.36pm GMT) and we caught up with the rider to get the lowdown on his big ride at the weekend.
You have won the Florida Derby a record five times, including each of the last two years. Is it a race you particularly look forward to?
It’s a race I always look forward to and have been blessed to do well in over the last few years. I’ve been lucky that I’ve ridden the best horse in the race when I’ve won and I hope that’s the case again on Saturday.
Do you think you have an advantage riding around Gulfstream Park that helps you succeed?
It’s all about trying to get used to the course and what the right and wrong things are when riding there. And that’s the same wherever you go really.
If you go out there being positive and thinking you can get the job done wherever you are then that makes a huge difference. I know the course well as I ride out in Florida during the winter so I don’t find it hard to ride at all.
Is it important to be positioned in a specific place to do well at the course?
You can ride a horse from anywhere to win at Gulfstream. The thing that makes the biggest difference is the horse who you’re riding.
The Florida Derby is a qualifier for the Kentucky Derby, the first US Classic. How do you rate the quality of the field this weekend?
I think the quality of horse in Saturday’s race are well up to being horses who could run well in the Kentucky Derby. A lot of the horses have been on the trail for the Derby and they’re well worth their place at Churchill if they get there.
You ride leading fancy Code of Honor. How do you rate his chances of winning?
I’ve not ridden the horse since he won last time but they are really positive about him and telling him he’s training really well. Hopefully he can come back and do the same thing he did last time. I think he’s the horse they’ve got to beat in this race.
Code of Honor is by Noble Mission, who won the Champion Stakes at Ascot and is Frankel’s brother. Are you surprised by how well he has handled the dirt?
He feels like a very natural horse on the dirt, it’s not difficult for him at all. He handles it well and the way he’s been working on the dirt, we knew he was very talented and worth keeping on the main track.
He’s shown how well he can do that in races and it makes sense not to change things with him right now. I’m pretty sure he could go well on the grass but he’s running so well on the dirt.
Looking at the opposition in the Florida Derby, who are you most scared of?
I tend to pay attention to my own horse really. That said, Bill Mott’s horse Hidden Scroll will be one I think we have to watch quite closely. He looks a really good horse and tried to go fast in front last time but it didn’t really work out for them.
I hope the pace will be faster and make it hard for him again as I think he’s potentially a big challenger.
What one thing do you think will aid your chances of success in the Florida Derby?
I got a great break from my horse last time to make sure I was in a position where I didn’t have to make any premature moves.
I could ride the race I wanted and make my challenge exactly when I wanted. If I can get a similar trip that would give me a great chance in this race.
Justify won the US Triple Crown last year following on from American Pharoah’s feat in 2015. Do you think we could have another Triple Crown winner in 2019?
I think that’s going to be very difficult to do. This year there is no horse who is dominating like Justify was last year. It’s not impossible but it doesn’t look like that right now.
And, finally, you are a Royal Ascot-winning jockey. Are we likely to see you in Britain this summer?
Absolutely, for sure. I’d love to come across and I’m planning to be there if I can be. It’s a meeting I love and I hope Wesley Ward keeps me in mind when he takes his horses over there. It’s a great place to be.
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