01/19/2014 12:58PM

Gulfstream Park: Velazquez back working horses ahead of Holy Bull Stakes

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Barbara D. Livingston
Jockey John Velazquez hasn't ridden in a race since sustaining serious injuries in a spill at the Breeders' Cup on Nov. 2.

BOYNTON BEACH, Fla. – Looking remarkably fresh, wearing a wide smile, and obviously eager to get back to what he does best, jockey John Velazquez was at the Palm Meadows training center on Sunday morning to work a pair of horses, including Coup de Grace, whom Velazquez will be aboard when he returns to action Saturday in the Grade 2, $400,000 Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park.

“I’m doing really well,” Velazquez said. “All I need now is the doctor’s release.”

Velazquez expects to get that the middle of this week from his physician in New York, and said he already has had his physical therapist send the paperwork ahead. Velazquez was scheduled to be in New York the middle of this week, in part because of a meeting of the New York Task Force on Jockey Health and Safety, of which he and the retired Ramon Dominguez are members.

Considering that he suffered serious injuries in an accident at the Breeders’ Cup a little more than two months ago – resulting in the removal of his spleen – Velazquez looked fantastic, rested, and tan. He joked that it was because he’d been getting so much sun.

That sun exposure is because of an exercise regimen Velazquez has been on since he and his family came to Florida just before Christmas.

“I had to build myself up,” he said. “I started very slowly, little by little, but after I got past the first week and a half, things picked up pretty quickly. It’s amazing what the body can do, and what it can remember.”

Velazquez has been riding a bicycle eight miles a day, six days a week, to help get his legs and lungs back in shape. He heads to the beach, rides up and down the coast, then heads back home. “But you still have to get on horses to see how you feel,” Velazquez said.

After attending the Eclipse Awards on Saturday night, Velazquez was at Palm Meadows early Sunday to work Monopolize for trainer Todd Pletcher at around 7 a.m. Velazquez is scheduled to ride him in an allowance race Saturday. Velazquez then awaited the workout of Coup de Grace, who came onto the track around 9 a.m., shortly after the renovation break.

Coup de Grace, working in company for trainer Chad Brown, was timed by Palm Meadows clockers going a half-mile in 47.40 seconds and galloping out five furlongs in 1:00.40. Velazquez picked up the mount because Javier Castellano, who had ridden Coup de Grace in his two prior races, both wins, chose to ride Wicked Strong in the Holy Bull.

Velazquez was injured when Secret Compass suffered fatal injuries during the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies on Nov. 2 at Santa Anita. He was hospitalized in Pasadena, Calif., for five days, during which he underwent surgery, then had to rest in a hospital near Santa Anita for another six days before he was well enough to fly back to New York.

Velazquez said one of the hardest parts of his recovery was gaining back the 10 pounds he initially lost.

“It’s something jockeys are not used to, putting on weight,” Velazquez said. “I couldn’t have that much salad. Every time I ate salad, it was tough for my digestive system. It was tough to handle. It was a good month until I started to eat better every day.”

Velazquez’s wife, Leona – who was at Palm Meadows on Sunday – said, “It was like feeding a baby.”

“I couldn’t have any solid food at first,” Velazquez said. “When I had my first taste of Jell-O in the hospital, it was like the best ever. The flavor felt so intense.”

Now, he’s ready to get back to riding. He can taste it.