Johnny Velazquez, a native of Carolina, Puerto Rico, won the Kentucky Derby for the second time in a row this year. This makes him one of just seven jockies who have ever won consecutive Derby races.
Velazquez has actually won the Derby four times: with Animal Kingdom in 2011, Always Dreaming in 2017, Authentic in 2020, and Medina Spirit in 2021.
Winning four of the last 11 Derbies is an impressive record. It puts Velazquez tied for third place with the legendary Bill Shoemaker for all-time wins. At 49, Velazquez also shares with Shoemaker the honor of being one of just three jockeys to win the Derby at over 45 years of age. Shoemaker won the Derby at 54 and Mike Smith at 52. “This opportunity doesn’t come very often for a man like me, the age that I am right now,” Velazquez said an interview.
Velazquez hopes to return to race in the Derby again in the future.
“I never thought in my wildest dreams I’d win four Derbys,” Velazquez told the Courier-Journal. “I want to come and do the best job I can do for the people that I’m working with. I take pride in what I do and I’m very blessed in the opportunities that I’ve been given.”
Velazquez was born in Carolina and began his career in Puerto Rico, where he won his first race at age 19. This race took place at El Comandante racetrack, where “The Puerto Rican Wonder Horse” Bold Forbes got his start before winning the Kentucky Derby in 1976. This track is now called Hipódromo Camarero.
Velazquez moved to New York in 1990. In both 2004 and 2005 he was the top-earning jockey in the United States and received he Eclipse Award for Outstanding Jockey.
He was inducted into the Puerto Rico Horse Racing Hall of Fame in 2006.
He was inducted into the U.S. Horse Riding Hall of Fame in 2012. In 2014, he became the top-earning jockey in the history of the sport.
Velazquez attended jockey school for a year and a half in Puerto Rico. When he moved to New York, he was mentored by famed jockey Angel Cordero. He initially lived with Cordero, and has joked that he learned English by watching “The Little Mermaid” with Cordero’s daughter for several months. Cordero later became Velazquez’s agent.
Velazquez is married and has two children.