LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — John Velazquez won the Kentucky Derby by a broken nose.
An injury to Animal Kingdom’s regular rider, Robby Albarado, cleared the way for Velazquez to pick up the mount on the 20-1 long shot. Once he took the reins Saturday, he rode his good luck all the way to the winner’s circle.
“For once, I’m on the good end of it,” Velazquez said. “All of a sudden I pick up this one and he wins the Derby, so it was meant to be.”
The last three years, the New York-based jockey came to Churchill Downs with a colt considered a leading contender, only to have it withdrawn.
This time, he was supposed to ride early second choice Uncle Mo before the colt was scratched due to a lingering stomach problem. Then Albarado broke his nose when he was thrown off his horse and kicked in the face before a race three days ago.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
Animal Kingdom, who had never raced on dirt before, reacted to his new rider the way a champion should, charging down the middle of the stretch to win by 2¾ lengths in front of a crowd of 164,858, the largest in Derby history.
He ran 1¼ miles in 2:02.04 — well off Secretariat’s track record of 1:59.40 in 1973 — and paid $43.80, $19.60 and $13.
Nehro returned $8.80 and $6.40, while Mucho Macho Man was another neck back in third and paid $7 to show.
“It’s words that you can’t describe,” Velazquez said. “But I do really feel really bad for Robby. I hope he’s winning the Derby with me here. I know he got hurt, so this is for both of us, buddy. I know you’re not on it, but I know you’re with me.”
Well, not exactly.
“I’m not happy,” said Albarado, despite winning a $345,600 stakes race on the Derby undercard. “Barry Irwin decided he didn’t think I was fit to ride; he didn’t know my status or situation. This just wasn’t my time today.”
Animal Kingdom is owned by Team Valor International, a partnership syndicate headed by Irwin, a former writer for the Daily Racing Form, the industry’s bible.
Irwin decided to switch riders when Albarado took Friday off to recuperate.