Six years after he rode his last winner, at age 50, Jorge
Velasquez still spends much of his time looking for fast horses.
He's been a jockey agent since 1999, most recently handling the
book of New York rider Dennis Carr. At five in the morning
Velasquez leaves his house in Valley Stream, N.Y., makes the
15-minute drive to Belmont Park and goes from barn to barn trying
to persuade trainers to hire his client. "I didn't want to sit in
an office after I quit riding," he says. "I'm my own boss, and I
get to work and socialize with people I've known for years."
Following his retirement, Velasquez took courses at Louisville
with the idea of becoming a racing steward. However, after
working briefly as a paddock judge at Kentucky Downs in Franklin,
Ky., he moved to Miami and eventually became an agent. He
relocated to New York eight months ago. Living comfortably with
his wife of 35 years, Margarita, on his earnings as a rider,
Velasquez is content to take on the occasional client. Two years
ago, in fact, he handled the book for Jose Santos, who rode Funny
Cide to victory in two of this year's Triple Crown races. "Being
an agent is something to do to keep me occupied and off the
streets," says Velasquez, who has three grown children. "I made
so much for so many years, I have no complaints."
His 34-year racing career began in his native Panama, where he
rode 347 winners in three years before he moved his tack, at age
19, to New Jersey in 1965. He quickly established himself as a
dominant rider and soon switched to the prestigious New York
circuit. In 1967 he led all jockeys in wins, with 438, and in '69
he topped the money list with earnings of $2,542,315. In 1974 and
'79 he rode Chris Evert and Davona Dale, respectively, to a sweep
of the Filly Triple Crown.
Velasquez is best known as the regular rider of racing's most
famous runner-up. In 1978 he rode Alydar to three dramatic
second-place finishes to Affirmed in the Kentucky Derby,
Preakness and Belmont. And though Velasquez won 6,795 races in
his career--including a Breeders' Cup Classic in 1985 atop Proud
Truth, as well as the 1981 Derby and Preakness aboard Pleasant
Colony--he has no doubts about his favorite horse. "Alydar was
the best I ever rode," he says. "When he was three, he beat older
horses in the Whitney by 10 lengths."
In 1987 Velasquez broke with his agent of 20 years and went to
France to ride for a year. When he returned to the U.S., he had
trouble restarting his career in New York and turned to less
competitive circuits. After two horrific accidents, in '94
(broken pelvis) and '95 (fractured vertebrae), his family
persuaded him to retire. "I'd had enough," says Velasquez, who
was inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame in 1990. "I practically
did everything. I still dream that I'm going to the paddock,
riding and fighting for first. There's nothing I like better to
do than ride horses, but retired is retired." --Mark Beech
6,795 winning mounts before becoming a jockey agent.