01/27/2006 12:00AM

An ace rider repeats himself

John Velazquez accepts his second straight Eclipse after a $20.8 million year.

Life simply could not get much better for John Velazquez, who won the Eclipse Award as the outstanding jockey in 2004 and repeated in 2005, when for the second straight year he led all North American jockeys in purse earnings with nearly $20.8 million.

Velazquez, 34, scored the richest victory of his career last March when he guided Roses in May to a three-length triumph in the $6 million Dubai World Cup. In North America, he won 250 races. Of that total, 43 came in graded stakes, including 11 Grade 1 races. He was the regular rider for Ashado, a winner of three Grade 1 events. Among his other important victories were the Grade 1 Travers and Grade 2 Jim Dandy on Flower Alley, the Grade 1 Atto Mile and Grade 2 Fourstardave on Leroidesanimaux, the Grade 1 Diana on Sand Springs, the Grade 1 Blue Grass on Bandini, and the Grade 1 Ballerina aboard Happy Ticket.

He won the riding title at the 2005 Keeneland spring meet, a rare achievement for a jockey not based in Kentucky. He finished second at the Saratoga meet after setting records for most winners at the Spa in 2003 (with 61) and 2004 (with 65), but he was unquestionably the most sought-after rider in stakes events there and elsewhere.

Velazquez, a native of Puerto Rico, has ascended to the top of his profession with a strong and extremely polished riding style. He often says his success is owed in large part to his agent, the retired riding great Angel Cordero Jr., and his primary client, Todd Pletcher - and during a perfunctory acceptance speech at the Eclipse dinner Monday night in Beverly Hills, he expressed his gratitude to those two men for being so instrumental in his career. Cordero was quick to take the young Velazquez under his wing in 1990, when Velazquez moved to the United States, while Pletcher, the record-setting trainer of 2005, long has used Velazquez on his best horses.

Velazquez was easily the choice of Eclipse voters. He received 195 first-place votes, while the next closest were Edgar Prado with 20 and the now-retired Jerry Bailey with 19.

Velazquez is married to the former Leona O'Brien, the daughter of New York trainer Leo O'Brien. The couple has two children and live most of the year in West Hempstead, N.Y., although Velazquez currently is riding at Gulfstream Park, where he and his family spend each winter.