01/05/2012 2:14PM

2011 Eclipse Awards: John Velazquez

Adam Coglianese/NYRA

As usual, jockey John Velazquez proved a force in 2011 on the Florida-New York circuit over which he regularly competes. But it was his rides at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky. – where he won his first Kentucky Derby aboard Animal Kingdom and later notched two Breeders’ Cup victories, aboard Stephanie’s Kitten in the Juvenile Fillies Turf and on longshot Perfect Shirl in the Emirates Airlines Filly and Mare Turf – that made the year so memorable.

His Breeders’ Cup success resulted in his being awarded the TVG Bill Shoemaker Award for outstanding Breeders’ Cup jockey, an award that he also won in 2004.

Although Velazquez had long hoped that 2011 might finally be his year to win the Derby after 11 previous attempts, he never expected it would come aboard Animal Kingdom. His Derby mount was supposed to be Uncle Mo, the juvenile champion of 2010. Uncle Mo was scratched the day before the Derby, and later was found to be suffering from a rare liver disorder. The withdrawal left Velazquez open in the race, and managing partner Barry Irwin of the Team Valor syndicate which owned Animal Kingdom chose to replace Robby Albarado with Velazquez. Albarado had broken his nose in a pre-race spill days earlier.

Animal Kingdom and Velazquez subsequently finished second in the Preakness and sixth in the Belmont Stakes after a troubled start.

Also in 2011, the 40-year-old Velazquez won the Saratoga riding title for the fifth time, and his mounts earned more than $18.2 million, second behind fellow finalist Ramon Dominguez.