Jockey Velazquez repeats wire-to-wire effort in Derby win

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Winning his second consecutive Kentucky Derby was only part of the statement made by jockey John Velazquez.

He did it going away, just like last time.

Velazquez guided Medina Spirit to a wire-to-wire victory in Saturday’s 147th running at Churchill Downs, holding off Mandaloun by a half-length and two others in close margins. The Hall of Famer’s fourth Derby victory made him the first rider to win consecutive Derbies since Victor Espinoza in 2014 and ’15 aboard California Chrome and Triple Crown winner American Pharoah.

Velazquez’s latest Derby win comes just eight months after he guided Authentic to a 1 1/4-length victory, leading that one from start to finish. He tied Bill Shoemaker and is just one behind Eddie Arcaro and Bill Hartack for the most career wins in the Run for the Roses.

“I never thought in my wildest dreams that I would win four Derbies,” said Velazquez, 49, who also won aboard Always Dreaming (2017) and Animal Kingdom (2011).

Velazquez’s win completed a rare double at Churchill Downs. It came just over 25 hours after he won the Kentucky Oaks aboard filly Malathaat, making him the first jockey to claim both the Oaks and the Derby since Calvin Borel in 2009 and the seventh overall.

And Medina Spirit offered Velazquez another opportunity to get out front and stay there.

Breaking from the No. 8 post at 12-1 odds, Medina Spirit quickly set the pace and was ahead to stay by the first turn. Mandaloun, Hot Rod Charlie and 5-2 favorite Essential Quality gave it one last shot down the stretch in a four-wide sprint, but the dark brown colt didn’t look back in covering the 1 1/4 miles in 2:01.02.

“I only thought the one horse that was faster than me was the horse who was in the lead last time out in Santa Anita,” Velazquez said, referring to Medina Spirit’s second-place finish to Rock Your World last month. “But he was outside today. And I said, if I break well, I am going to try to outbreak him. If he needs to go faster than me, then he can go faster than me.

“And it worked out good.”

Though trainer Bob Baffert came to Churchill Downs with just one Derby entrant, he felt good about his prospects with a jockey who knows how to get the best out of the horse.

“He’s so cool, such a professional,” the Hall of Famer said of Velazquez. “When you work with guys like him, like the Mike Smiths, they’re just so smart. They know every move. They know every horse, what they’re going to do. He knew exactly what he was going to do.

“I went to sleep last night, I didn’t think how Johnny V was going to ride him. I said: ‘Look, you ride him. I don’t care what you do. You know the horse really well now.’”

Velazquez’s payoff was another Derby win in a career featuring six Triple Crown victories and two Eclipse Awards. He insists he appreciates the opportunity more than the results that recently seem to come easy in the Derby.

“I never look at numbers,” he said. “Everybody asked me the same questions. It’s not a thing for me. I want to come and do the best job I can do for the people that I’m working with.

“I take pride at what I do. I’m very blessed with the opportunities I’ve been given. And it works out.”

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