06/16/2011 12:04PM

Q&A: Angel Cordero

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Audrey C. Crosby
Angel Cordero congratulates John Velazquez after Animal Kingdom’s Derby win.

Hall of Fame jockey, winner of 7,057 races in North America, and a three-time winner of the Kentucky Derby, he is now the agent for jockey John Velazquez.

Birthdate: May 8, 1942, in Santurce, Puerto Rico

Family: sons, Tommy, Angel; daughters, Merly, Julie, Canela

Got into racing because. . . “I was bred like the A.P. Indy of humans, of jockeys. Top and bottom. I was bred for it. My grandfathers were jockeys and trainers. One of my grandfathers galloped until he was 84. My father was a trainer, and he rode sometimes. We lived right behind the stables at the track. My mother didn’t want me to be a jockey. My father and I didn’t say anything. We wanted to hide it. We did everything behind her back. The day before, she caught me in my bed with my helmet and boots.”

What did it feel like for you when Johnny won the Kentucky Derby? “I felt like I won it. He doesn’t show that much emotion. Some people win the race, jump up and down. When I would win, like on Bold Forbes, I would think that I did it. I felt like the President of the United States. Of course, the horse did something, and the trainer, but I liked to celebrate like I was the one who contributed.

At the Derby, I was on the fourth floor. There was a guy next to me who turned out to be one of the owners of Animal Kingdom. We were joking, ‘How are we going to get down there if we win?’ He said, ‘We have Pinkertons, and the elevator is blocked off for the winners. They have everything there. Now all we have to do is win it.’ I ran behind him after the race. When I got to the infield, I had tears in my eyes. I didn’t want to go in the winner’s circle. It was Johnny’s moment. I’ve won three. But I felt like I won again.

I watched the race with my daughter, Canela, my partner in crime. At the three-eighths pole, she said, ‘How are we doing?’ I said, ‘We’ve got a chance.’ At the quarter-pole, she said, ‘How are we doing?’ I said, ‘We’re doing better.’ And then when he got clear, I started jumping up and down.”

You and Johnny are both from Puerto Rico. You seem particularly close: “He first came to this country when he was 18. I was still riding. He lived with me. He’s like family. He’s like my son. And he’s like the only son who wanted to be a jockey. You ask any trainer, ‘Do you want your kids to do what you do?’ No. Ask any jockey, ‘Do you want your kids to do what you do?’ No. No one ever wants to see their kids be a jockey. I tried to encourage my kids, but none liked it.

Johnny was in the accident where I got hurt. Four guys went down. So I finished my career with him, and then I started a new career with him. I always wanted to beat Manny Ycaza’s record at Saratoga for wins in four weeks, but I never could. Johnny did it. And he beat Jerry Bailey’s record for six weeks. And he won six in a day at Saratoga. I never did that. He’s broken three records that I chased. And I was more happy than him. When I was riding, there were things my agent did that I didn’t like, so I learned from that. I let Johnny do his job.”

Do you like being an agent? “It’s a begging business. Everybody yells at you.”

You recently went to Schenectady, N.Y., to testify on behalf of trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. in his New York State Racing and Wagering Board hearing. Tell me your thoughts about Dutrow: “They asked me if I thought he was a great horseman. I told them his horses always look good. They perform good. He runs horses where they belong. He doesn’t have 12-1 shots or 15-1 shots. He takes good care of them. He’s one of the few who can run a horse back-to-back. I look at him a different way from some others. I know he’s very controversial. But he sent horses to Dubai, where there is no medication, and won two races. I think he’s a great trainer. He’s an impeccable horseman.”

What do you consider your best ride ever? “Everybody thinks it was Bold Forbes in the Belmont Stakes, but you have to give Bold Forbes credit, and you have to give Laz Barrera credit. If he doesn’t train him right, we don’t win.”

What about Cannonade in the 1974 Kentucky Derby? “I would call that my luckiest win. I got through. There were 23 in the race. I passed 19 of them to win.”

Best horse ridden? “Seattle Slew, by far. Slew o’ Gold was good. I give him a lot of credit because he always had problems. But there’s no comparison with his father. Seattle Slew would have beaten him by four or five lengths. If my life depended on it, Seattle Slew is the one I would want to ride.”

Best horse seen? “With my own eyes, Kelso and Secretariat. Kelso packed a lot of weight. He was Horse of the Year five years in a row. He won at all kinds of distances and on grass. Secretariat, I beat him the first time he ran. Then I saw his ass all the time. The last three Triple Crown winners, when they won the Triple Crown, I was looking at their asses.”

Who were your toughest rivals as jockeys? “Laffit Pincay Jr. and Jorge Velasquez, both of them when they were in their prime. I never rode against Bill Shoemaker on a regular basis. But the other guys, when they were riding in New York, it was every day, every race.”

Who were the best trainers for whom you rode? “I rode for a lot of good trainers. Picking one or two would be like splitting your child. The list that I thought were outstanding would start with Angel Penna Sr. He was a leading trainer all over the world − America, Argentina, France − and won the Arc de Triomphe two times. I’d also include Laz Barrera, Frank Martin, Charlie Whittingham, Farrell Jones, D. Wayne Lukas, and Shug McGaughey. And my favorite now is Todd Pletcher.”

Future ambitions? “I want to own a horse that runs in the Kentucky Derby, either on my own or with a partnership. I don’t care if he wins or not. I just want to say, ‘That’s my horse.’ I feel like I accomplished everything I wanted to as a jockey, and whatever I didn’t, Johnny did.”