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John Velazquez rides 1,000th winner at Saratoga

147th Kentucky Derby

LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY - MAY 01: Jockey John Velazquez celebrates atop Medina Spirit #8, after winning the 147th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 01, 2021 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. -- John Velazquez, already the leading career rider at Saratoga, had his 1,000th winner at the historic track.

The 50-year-old Hall of Fame jockey won the eighth race by a neck aboard Precursory, who paid $14 to win. The filly is trained by fellow Hall of Famer Bill Mott.

“It’s a special number, no matter what,” said Velazquez, who first came to Saratoga from his native Puerto Rico at age 18.

Back then, Velazquez traveled with Hall of Fame jockey Angel Cordero Jr. on a flight upstate.

“On the ride here he told me everything about Saratoga and how special it is,” Velazquez said. “The first year I won maybe three races, the second year maybe two races. I was furious, this was not a special place for me. In 1992, I was almost going back home but with the help of a new agent, it got me started again and it went on the right way with steady business.”

Some of Velazquez’s biggest career moments have occurred at Saratoga.

His 64 victories at the 2004 summer meet was a record at the time. On Sept. 9, 2001, he won six races in one day to set a record. On July 27, 2013, he won his 694th race to become the track’s winningest jockey.

Mott recalled that Velazquez clinched the first of his five Saratoga riding titles in 1998 on a horse he trained called Clever Actor on the last day of the meet.

“When they come down to a photo finish, if you’re betting, you might want to put your money on him,” Mott said. “He’s been very tough when it comes down to the wire.”