04/20/2006 11:00PM

Injured rider Velazquez to be out indefinitely

John Velazquez

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Two-time Eclipse Award-winning jockey John Velazquez suffered a fractured shoulder blade in a frightening spill Thursday at Keeneland and will be out of action for an indefinite period after being released Friday morning from the University of Kentucky Chandler Medical Center in Lexington.

Velazquez's agent, Angel Cordero Jr., said Friday morning at Churchill Downs that he assumed Velazquez would have to miss the Kentucky Derby, if not the entire Triple Crown series.

Dr. Bernard Boulanger, Velazquez's attending physician at the hospital, said in a brief press release that Velazquez incurred injuries to his chest and right shoulder but that the prognosis for a full recovery is good.

"How long he will be sidelined is fully dependent on how his body heals," Boulanger said in the release.

Cordero said the jockey's most serious injury was to his right scapula, the large bone just below and behind the shoulder.

Velazquez's doctors "thought he was going to have surgery [Thursday] night, but then they didn't think so," said Cordero, a retired Hall of Fame jockey. "He's pretty sore everywhere, but he's very lucky. That is one of the ugliest spills I've ever seen."

Velazquez was injured when his mount, Up an Octave, broke down about 100 yards past the finish in the Forerunner Stakes and rolled over his fallen jockey. Up an Octave, a 3-year-old colt owned by Vinery Stable and trained by Pletcher, had just won the 1 1/8-mile turf race as the favorite. The colt suffered a catastrophic injury to his left foreleg and was euthanized on the turf course. No other horses or jockeys were involved.

Cordero said Velazquez's wife, Leona, was with the jockey and that a major client of Pletcher's, James Scatuorchio, has arranged for them to be flown back to the couple's home in West Hempstead, N.Y., on Scatuorchio's private jet as soon as possible. However, Cordero said Friday that doctors are not permitting Velazquez to fly "for at least a few days."

Velazquez, 34, has developed into the premier jockey in North America, having won the Eclipse Award the past two years. At the time of the accident, he was tied for leading rider at the Keeneland spring meet with apprentice Julien Leparoux with 12 wins each. Velazquez was the leading rider last spring at Keeneland, and will be the leading rider at the Gulfstream Park meet that ends Sunday.

Velazquez was to ride one of three hopefuls for trainer Todd Pletcher in the May 6 Derby - Sunriver, Keyed Entry, or, most likely, Bluegrass Cat.

A native of Carolina, Puerto Rico, Velazquez has become the dominant jockey on the New York circuit, where he would have resumed riding shortly after the Derby. Because Velazquez rides so frequently for Pletcher, who has won the last two Eclipse Awards in the trainer category, there will be no lack of jockey agents calling on Pletcher in the coming days. In regard to replacements for Velazquez in New York, Pletcher may have partly revealed his intentions this weekend at Keeneland, where he named Edgar Prado to ride his lone starter Friday, and Chris DeCarlo, who rode occasionally for Pletcher at Gulfstream this winter, to ride four of his five starters Sunday.

Regardless of the Velazquez injury, Rafael Bejarano, who will ride at the Churchill spring meet after the Derby, figured highly in Pletcher's plans for his 35-horse Kentucky string. Pletcher named Bejarano to replace Velazquez on both of his Saturday runners at Keeneland and on J'ray in the Appalachian Stakes on Sunday.

Velazquez, who came to the United States in March 1990, has won multiple riding titles at every New York Racing Association track and has ranked among NYRA's top 10 jockeys every year since 1991.

Although he has never won a Triple Crown event, Velazquez has won six Breeders' Cup races and also won the world's richest race, the $6 million Dubai World Cup, last year on Roses in May.