Updated on 04/11/2013 9:13AM

Kentucky Derby: Velazquez, other jockeys have decisions to make

Barbara D. Livingston
John Velazquez must choose between Wood Memorial winner Verrazano and Florida Derby winner Orb – that is, if he is healthy enough to ride.

There are less than four weeks until the Kentucky Derby, do you know who’s riding your horse?

For the connections of many of the top contenders, the answer as of Monday afternoon was no.

Trainer Todd Pletcher has two of the top Derby contenders in undefeated Wood Memorial winner Verrazano and Louisiana Derby winner Revolutionary.

John Velazquez has ridden Verrazano in all four of his starts – all wins – but he also has won the Fountain of Youth and Florida Derby on Orb, trained by Shug McGaughey.

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On Sunday morning, Velazquez said he was hopeful the connections of both horses would give him ample time to make a decision. By Sunday evening, however, Velazquez’s status for either horse was put in doubt when he suffered a cracked rib on his upper right side and chipped a bone in his right wrist as the result of a spill at Aqueduct on Sunday afternoon.

On Monday, Velazquez met with his orthopedist, Dr. Stephen O'Brien, and Velazquez's wife, Leona, said later in a text message that that he planned to ride in the Derby and would start taking riding assignments on Derby week.

Velazquez will not be able to ride defending Horse of the Year Wise Dan in Friday’s Grade 1 Maker’s 46 Mile at Keeneland. He will also be unable to ride Overanalyze in Saturday’s Arkansas Derby and has already been replaced by Rafael Bejarano, according to Pletcher.

In the winner’s circle following the Wood, Pletcher expressed confidence that Velazquez would choose Verrazano.

“We’ve got a pretty long history and a lot of success together over the years, and I think it would be pretty hard to take off an undefeated horse,” Pletcher said.

Shug McGaughey, the trainer of Orb, said he was hopeful to get an answer sooner than later if Velazquez was going to ride his horse.

“I’m going to need to know something one way or the other,” McGaughey said Monday. “Even if this [injury] didn’t happen, I got to go ahead. I’m not putting any pressure on him in any way, but you would like to have some sort of time frame.”

Velazquez isn’t the only jockey with a tough decision to make.

Javier Castellano rode Revolutionary to victory in the Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds and the Withers at Aqueduct. However, on Saturday he rode Normandy Invasion to a late-running second in the Wood, and that colt’s gallop out was very strong, indicating he might relish the 1 1/4 miles of the Derby.

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Chad Brown, trainer of Normandy Invasion, said he’s willing to give Castellano a few days to decide.

“We’d obviously be very happy to keep Javier on the horse if we can,” Brown said. “He gets along with him very well, and we have a lot of confidence when we have Javier on our horses. We’ll give them these next few days to decide what they’re doing. We’re okay with that.”

Matt Muzikar, agent for Castellano, said he was going to sit down with his rider this week to exchange ideas, but cited the mantra of all riders and agents: later is better.

“Horses are fragile, anything can happen, that’s why we want to procrastinate as long as possible,” Muzikar said. “We’ll see what happens.”

Garrett Gomez became available Sunday when it was revealed that Flashback, who finished second to Goldencents in the Santa Anita Derby, had a chip in a knee and was off the Derby trail.

Should Velazquez choose to ride Verrazano, that could open the door for Joel Rosario to get back on Orb. Rosario was aboard Orb for his first five starts, including two victories, before winding up on Speak Logistics in the Fountain of Youth.

Rosario rode Vyjack to a win in the Gotham and then a third-place finish in the Wood Memorial.

Other high-profile riders seeking Derby mounts include Mike Smith, Rosie Napravnik, Corey Nakatani, and Rafael Bejarano. Smith rides War Academy in Saturday’s Arkansas Derby.

One jockey who is definitely out of the picture is Ramon Dominguez, the three-time reigning Eclipse Award-winning rider who is still recovering from a traumatic brain injury suffered in a spill at Aqueduct on Jan. 18.

Dominguez was at Aqueduct on Saturday where he told reporters that he won’t meet with his doctors again until sometime in June.

– additional reporting by Jay Privman