05/23/2013 3:43PM

Belmont notes: Velazquez nearing 5,000-win milestone

Adam Coglianese/NYRA
John Velazquez won the Good Reward Stakes aboard Teaks North at Belmont Park on May 15 to continue his march toward 5,000 career wins.

ELMONT, N.Y. – As he approaches one milestone this year and an even more significant one likely next year, jockey John Velazquez maintains that he still has “that fire” to compete at the highest level.

Velazquez, 41, entered Friday’s card at Belmont Park with 4,991 career victories and soon will become the 28th rider to win 5,000 races. Through Thursday, he ranked third all-time in career purse money won with $286,000,638, trailing leader Pat Day by $11.9 million.

While acknowledging that those are “big numbers,” Velazquez said there will be plenty of time to reflect on them when the time comes.

“If it happens, it happens,” Velazquez said of reaching 5,000 career wins. “I’m very, very blessed to have a career as good as it’s been.”

Velazquez said he has no plans to retire anytime soon. He recently returned from a cracked rib in time to ride in the Kentucky Derby, finishing 14th on Verrazano, and Preakness, finishing second on Itsmyluckyday.

“I needed a little more help in front,” Velazquez said, referring to the fact that nobody ran with Oxbow, who led the Preakness from gate to wire.

With Itsmyluckyday skipping the Belmont Stakes, Velazquez likely will end up on a horse trained by Todd Pletcher, presumably Arkansas Derby winner Overanalyze or perhaps the filly Unlimited Budget, both owned by Mike Repole. Velazquez won the Belmont Stakes last year aboard Union Rags and in 2007 aboard the filly Rags to Riches.

Next month, Velazquez will be reunited with his 2011 Kentucky Derby winner, Animal Kingdom, for the Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot. Toward that end, Velazquez will fly to England on Monday night and work Animal Kingdom at Royal Ascot on Wednesday.

“Definitely,” Velazquez said when asked if he was looking forward to getting on Animal Kingdom one last time. “Will be fun.”

Since returning from injury, Velazquez has won seven races from 45 mounts, and he was scheduled to ride eight horses at Belmont on Friday, the most he has ridden on one card since the April 7 spill at Aqueduct.

Velazquez did ride seven May 17 and 18 at Pimlico and said he “felt better than I thought.”

On May 15, just two weeks after returning to the saddle following a three-week absence, Velazquez won the Good Reward Stakes aboard Teaks North at Belmont. Galloping back on the turf course, Teaks North unseated Velazquez, kicking him in his helmet and grazing the back of his safety vest when he tried to jump over Velazquez.

Despite injuries suffered in spills last year and this year, Velazquez said he is still motivated to ride.

“I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t feel like doing it,” he said. “I still have that feeling that I need to be here – that fire. If you don’t have that, you can’t be here. I’m hungry to get to the next big horse, the next big race.”

The next big race for Velazquez will be Monday’s Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap, in which he will ride Cross Traffic, who ran a dynamite race when second to Flat Out in the Westchester under Javier Castellano. Velazquez missed that race due to injury but had been aboard for Cross Traffic’s first two wins at Gulfstream.

“We always liked this horse,” Velazquez said. “He trained great in the morning before he ever started.”

◗ Trainer Michelle Nevin said Teaks North, who won the Good Reward Stakes here May 15, will point to the Grade 1 United Nations Handicap at Monmouth Park on July 6. Teaks North won the 2011 United Nations.

◗ Belmont will host its first Food Truck Festival on Saturday, with a variety of cuisine being offered from a select number of metropolitan-area food-truck vendors.