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Jockey Tries To Ride Out Bumpy Stretch…Touched By An 'Angel' - Horseracing Legend Takes A Star Under His Wing

Jockey Tries To Ride Out Bumpy Stretch

By Tim Price
Star-Telegram Staff Writer

April 12, 2004
Copyright © 2004 The Fort-Worth Star-Telegram. All rights reserved.

Bob Baffert was hoping he could "punch his ticket" to the Kentucky Derby when he showed up for the Louisiana Derby at the Fair Grounds last month with Wimbledon.

A strong run by Wimbledon down the long stretch at Fair Grounds would be enough for Baffert, a three-time winning trainer of the Kentucky Derby, to take the colt to Kentucky.

It not only would be a proving ground for Wimbledon, who had just won his first race after five tries, it would be a proving ground for the jockey.

Javier Santiago, who doesn't speak English, had ridden for eight years in Puerto Rico, but he had come to the United States a month earlier and immediately won the faith of Baffert. The trainer, fluent in Spanish, communicates easily with the rider.

"I know he can be patient with a horse," Baffert said before the race. "Now we're going to find out how aggressive he can be."

Maybe Baffert now wishes that Pandora's box had never been opened.

The 26-year-old Santiago won the Louisiana Derby with a patient ride on Wimbledon, allowing the colt to settle behind a very fast pace before making a well-timed move.

It looked as if Santiago earned Baffert another Derby ticket when he rode Preachinatthebar through some trying circumstances, safely handling the colt when a loose horse was running alongside, to win the San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita.

However, a pair of aggressive rides without much success on those colts by Santiago in their final prep races has left some uncertainty.

Baffert said he'll still take Wimbledon to the Derby, but hasn't made a decision on Preachinatthebarr -- or on Santiago's rides.

Wimbledon stayed at Santa Anita for the Santa Anita Derby last week. When the front-runners moved through the opening half mile in 46.84 seconds and three-quarters of a mile in 1:11.11 -- both times faster than the older horses could manage going the same distance in the San Bernadino Handicap later in the day at Santa Anita -- Santiago made an early move with Wimbledon. He chased down the leaders before he reached the final turn, had nothing left for the stretch drive and finished a visibly tired fifth.

Preachinatthebar went to the Blue Grass Stakes on Saturday at Keeneland. It was clear that the horse to catch was Lion Heart, and he moved to the early lead, but was joined by Limehouse. Santiago, however, was unable to keep Preachinatthebar out of the battle. The horse rushed up between Lion Heart and Limehouse and forced a faster pace leaving the first turn. Santiago came home on another tired horse and finished seventh.

Baffert hasn't named any riders for his Derby entries, but said he hasn't abandoned Santiago.

Baffert said he wanted Julie Krone to ride Wimbledon in the Derby, but she is sidelined by a rib injury she sustained in December.

"With her out, it's one of the reasons I wanted Javier to come from Puerto Rico when they showed me the videotapes of him riding there," Baffert said.

So the rides on Wimbledon and Preachinatthebar are far from the end of the road for Santiago. Maybe they're just a bump in it.

Javier Santiago, left, who rode Preachinatthebar to victory in the Grade II San Felipe Stakes last month, might be one of the jockeys for trainer Bob Baffert, right, in the Kentucky Derby.

Touched By An 'Angel' - Horseracing Legend Takes A Star Under His Wing


April 14, 2004
Copyright © 2004 N.Y.P. Holdings, Inc. All rights reserved.

New York Post

SUPERSTAR jockey John Velazquez and his Hall-of-Fame "coach" Angel Cordero Jr. are the Robin and Batman of thoroughbred racing.

With Velazquez riding at racetracks like Aqueduct, Belmont Park and Saratoga, and Cordero, Johnnys longtime agent and mentor, choosing which horses he rides, this dynamic duo has teamed up to win more races in New York than anyone else three years in a row.

Now, like other jockey/agent combos, the two have set their sights on the ultimate goal: a victory in the $1 million Kentucky Derby on Saturday, May 1, at Churchill Downs.

Velazquez, 32, has become one of the nations premier reinsmen since he first came to New York from his hometown of Carolina, Puerto Rico, 14 years ago, winning nearly 3,000 races and more than $120 million in purses. But hes yet to capture the "Run for the Roses," the most famous horserace in the world.

"It would mean a lot to me," says Velazquez, who has one second-place finish from six Derby mounts. "Its the race everybody wants to win. Theres so much prestige."

Cordero, 61, was ranked as one of the worlds all-time great jockeys before he retired in 1992 after a near-fatal riding accident at the Big A. He numbered three Derby victories among the more than 7,000 races he won in his career.

"He was my idol," says Velazquez, who, as a rebellious teenager, turned his life around when he entered Puerto Ricos famous jockey school at the recommendation of a family friend, Tico Garcia. Garcia brought Velazquez to Corderos attention, sending him a tape of Johnny riding at El Commandante racetrack.

"This is a very nice, serious kid," Tico told him. "Hes going to be a star."

Cordero was unimpressed until he watched the tape with his buddy, retired baseball slugger and avid race fan Richie Allen. "That kids got talent. He reminds me of you," said Allen, who agreed to serve as Velazquez agent. Soon, the young prospect was on a plane to New York.

Unlike Cordero, who struggled when he first came to the States from Santurce in the early 1960s, often forced to sleep in his car, Velazquez was nurtured since the day he arrived by Angel and his late wife, former jockey Marjorie Clayton, the victim of a tragic hit-and-run three years ago.

Cordero, after training horses for several years, became Velazquez agent in 1998.

His expertise has been instrumental in Johnnys rise to the top - not only when it comes to race-riding, but in dealing with people.

"He does all the talking for me," Velazquez said, half in jest. "Hes so sharp, he knows everything. I learned a lot from him - not just about riding, but the whole package you need to survive."

"Ive always told Johnny, Get them before they get you," Cordero Jr. says. "If there are 10 horses in a race, its nine against you. Nobodys going to feel sorry for you."

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