Updated 08/10/2012 07:54 PM
Velazquez leads class of 2012 into Racing's Hall of Fame
Saratoga's second all-time leading jockey headlines the class inducted into racing's Hall of Fame Friday. YNN's Matt Hunter has more on the emotional speech of the man affectionately known as "Johnny V."
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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Twenty-two years, 22 riding titles and more than 4,800 wins: Accomplishments jockey John Velazquez says might have never happened had agent Ralph Theroux Sr. never talked a then 20-year-old Velazquez out of moving back to his native Puerto Rico.
"From that day on, when I thought my career was over back in 1992, he put me on the right track and is why I'm standing in front of you,” Velazquez said. “So thank you, Ralph, I know you're watching."
Eighteen years later, the late Theroux was just one of the many people the man known as “Johnny V.” thanked Friday during an emotional acceptance speech. Velazquez headlined the class inducted to horse racing's Hall of Fame.
Early in his speech, Velazquez paused to thank his mother, who sat in the audience. Too choked up to continue, his wife, Leona, joined him at his side.
"I didn't think he could continue speaking and I knew he really wanted to and would be disappointed if he didn't,” Leona said after the speech. “So I kind of got up there and had his back."
"She's always there for me, there's nothing else I can say about that," Velazquez said.
2004 Horse of the Year and Breeders Cup Classic winner Ghostzapper was the only horse included in the 2012 class. The Bobby Frankel trained colt won nine races in 11 career starts and earned $3,446,120 in his career. As a four-year-old in 2004, he won all four of his starts and beat a Breeders Cup Classic field that included the likes of Azeri, Funny Cide and Birdstone.
His only loss in a Grade 1 stakes came in the 2003 King’s Bishop at Saratoga.
Inducted alongside Ghostzapper and Velazquez were three time Canadian Triple Crown winning trainer Roger Attfield and the late Robert Wheeler, a Texas based trainer who won 1,336 races and worked for owner C.V. Whitney, among others.
Even with three other accomplished individuals receiving plaques, it was Saratoga's five-time leading rider who received the loudest ovation.
"He sees the best in everybody,” Leona Velazquez said. “That's a very unique quality Johnny has and people see that and feed off that."
"He's a terrific role model, terrific husband, a caring father and just an all-around super human being," said trainer Todd Pletcher, who introduced Velazquez Friday.
A giant of the sport, Velazquez has won a Kentucky Derby, two Belmont Stakes, nine Breeders Cup races and one memorable Travers in 2005, yet, all who sang his praises spoke more about the man and less about the rider.
"He’s one of the best people in the world to be around,” said trainer Leo O’Brien, Velazquez’s father-in-law. “He’s a great husband, a great son-in-law, just a great person to be around and a very loyal person."
"Just being around Johnny exudes positiveness,” Leona said. “You want to be a better person when you're around him and I just fell in love with him.”