10/05/2001 11:00PM

Fired Velez eager to beat his former mount


MIAMI, Fla. - There are 400,000 reasons why jockey Roger Velez and his colleagues want to win Saturday's In Reality Stakes.

But besides the $400,000 purse, Velez has extra incentive to win the final leg of the open division of the Florida Stallion Series when he rides O'Rocky for trainer Eddie Plesa Jr. in the main event on the $1.5 million Festival of the Sun program.

Velez had been the regular rider for Carey's Gold, aboard whom he won the first two legs of the Stallion Series, divisions of the Dr. Fager and Affirmed stakes. But when the undefeated 2-year-old tries to add his name to the short list of horses who have swept the series, it will be Jorge Chavez and not Velez in the saddle.

"I was a little surprised and disappointed when they told me they were making a change," Velez said. "Mr. Thompson [owner Adam Thompson] even called me himself to apologize and thank me for having done such a good job with the horse.

"They said they were thinking of the future, and if they could get a Chavez or a [Jerry] Bailey here they had to take them. I thought I really got along with with the horse well. I even got him to take back, rate, and run from off the pace in the Affirmed. And I always ascribe by the theory when something's not broke you don't fix it."

Fortunately for Velez, he will have an opportunity to win the In Reality aboard O'Rocky, who won a division of the Dr. Fager along with Carey's Gold, and then ran a troubled fourth in the Affirmed.

"You can't win it if you're not in it and at least I'm in it," Velez said. "And I really think O'Rocky has a big chance of winning. I worked him a mile the other day in 1:43, and you don't see many horses - let alone a

2-year-old - work that big around here."

Plesa offered Velez the mount after he learned of the change in riders on Carey's Gold.

"It's a thrill to ride for Eddie," said Velez. "I think this is only the second mount I've had for him this meet. He was kind enough to put me on O'Rocky when he heard I'd been taken off the other horse and I'd really love to jump up and win it for him.

"Believe me, because of what happened, I'll be extra pumped up for this one."

Velez, whose biggest lifetime victory came aboard Hal's Hope in the Grade 1 Florida Derby two years ago, could have a very big day on the Festival of the Sun card.

Along with O'Rocky he will ride Hal's Hope in the $100,000 Spend a Buck Handicap and Atiba in the $100,000 Flying Pidgeon Handicap.