06/14/2013 5:33PM

Belmont Park: Velazquez rides 5,000th winner


ELMONT, N.Y. - John Velazquez expressed more relief than joy when he guided Galloping Giraffe from last to first to win Belmont's sixth race Friday, giving the jockey his 5,000th career win in North America.

"Well, finally we get it done, right? Jeez, it took four weeks to do it," Velazquez said. "Great. Put it behind me. Let's move on to the next one."

Velazquez, 41, became the 28th jockey to reach the 5,000-win plateau and the third one this year. Calvin Borel won his 5,000th in March and T.D. Houghton in May.

Tom Keyser
Hall of Famer John Velazquez became the 29th jockey to reach the 5,000-win milestone.

Velazquez recorded his 4,889th and 4,990th victories at Pimlico on May 18, when he won a pair of graded stakes on the Preakness undercard. But the last 10 wins came slower than Velazquez had hoped.

"I don't really believe what everybody says, that when you get close to a big number you go in a slump," Velazquez said. "But I couldn't believe it. Maybe this is why I'm going so slow. Everything's second, third, second, third. I'm riding really good races and unfortunately getting beat. Finally, it's over and move on to the next one and whatever happens, happens."

Velazquez won with all three horses he rode on Friday's card, including Greed and Fear in a $72,000 optional claiming race and San Pablo in the $90,000 Criminal Type Stakes, upsetting odds-on favorite Mucho Macho Man.

The 5,000th win - as well as the 4,999th - appropriately came on a horse trained by Todd Pletcher, for whom Velazquez has won 1,303 races in his career, including the 2007 Belmont Stakes on Rags to Riches.

"Incredible," said Velazquez, a two-time Eclipse Award winner who was inducted into racing's Hall of Fame last summer. "He was mad because he thought the earlier race made 5,000. He said, 'Now you're going to do it for somebody else.' I said, 'No, I got one more and it's for you.' "

Galloping Giraffe was last, 12 lengths back, before making a huge move on the far turn and sustaining it through the stretch to win by eight.

"Todd told me don't worry about the break - she's going to be slow, let her fall behind keep her face clear, and she's going to come running down the lane," Velazquez said. "She sure did."

Velazquez, who ranks third all-time on the earnings list with $287.5 million, was asked if he could possibly win another 1,000 races.

"I hope so. I'm planning to ride for a few more years if I'm healthy enough," said Velazquez, who missed some time earlier this year because of a fractured rib. "We got to be healthy. Look at what happened to Ramon."

Velazquez was referring to Ramon Dominguez, who on Thursday announced his retirement because of a brain injury he sustained in a spill at Aqueduct in January. Dominguez retired with 4,985 wins and ranks 29th all-time in wins, right behind Velazquez.

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the number of riders who have reached 5,000 career wins this year. It is three, not two. T.D. Houghton won his 5,000th race in May.