01/18/2008 12:00AM

Two old friends combine for win


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - John Velazquez does not ride very often for trainer Nick Zito, so it came as somewhat of a surprise, even to Velazquez, when he was named aboard Commentator for Thursday's allowance feature at Gulfstream Park, a one-mile race in which Commentator cruised to a 14-length victory in track-record time.

But despite having done little business together in the afternoon, the two men have plenty of history together, dating back to the summer of 1990 when Velazquez was a bug boy and also the exercise rider for Zito's first Kentucky Derby winner, Strike the Gold.

"It was my first year as a jockey, I was at Saratoga and not riding all that much, so I tried to keep busy in the morning by exercising horses," Velazquez recalled. "Nick was a top trainer and he gave me the opportunity to work good horses, which was great experience for me at the time."

Velazquez recalled the first time he worked Strike the Gold.

"Nick told me to let him break off five or 10 lengths behind his workmate and then pick him up," said Velazquez. "Strike the Gold was kind of a lazy horse and it took him a while to get going. But once we left the quarter pole he decided to run, and just shot by that other horse and drew off. It was unbelievable. I worked him a few more times that summer, and after about the third or fourth time Nick told me 'This is my Derby horse for next year.' "

Unfortunately for Velazquez, it was Chris Antley who wound up riding Strike the Gold to his 1991 Derby victory.

"Naturally, I would have loved to have ridden him, but just going to see him run and then win the Derby and to say I worked him was exciting for a kid like me back then," said Velazquez.

As for Commentator, whose time of 1:33.71 shaved .16 of a second off the track record, Velazquez said picking up the mount came as a bit of a surprise.

"Nick pulled me over earlier in the meet and said 'I have a good horse for you to ride,' " said Velazquez on Friday. "He never told me who it was. I finally found out from my agent. And boy, Nick was right. I was just a passenger out there yesterday. I only got into him once to make him switch leads. Nick told me before the race we were going to break the track record, and he was right."

Zito said he chose Velazquez to ride Commentator because he thought he would fit him well and would be available to accept the mount.

"Johnny is a great rider and we've been friends a long time," said Zito. "The reason I don't use him more is because he's tied in with Todd [Pletcher], we have the same type of horses, and it's just difficult for me to get him."

Hesanoldsalt euthanized

Commentator's victory on Thursday helped take some of the sting away from the loss Zito suffered the previous morning when his graded stakes winner Hesandoldsalt had to be euthanized following a freak accident during training hours.

"He had just come in from the Live Oak Farm on Tuesday," said Zito. "He was walking under our shed around 8:30 a.m. when he reared up and broke loose from the groom. He ran down the road towards Michael Matz's barn, somebody came out to try to stop him, and the horse ducked away to avoid that person and ran into a tree. He broke his shoulder and had to be put down."

Zito said Hesandoldsalt's owner, Charlotte Weber, took the news well.

"She told me that accidents happen," said Zito.

"He was a Grade 3 winner and gave Invasor and Corinthian runs for their money, and this year we had a dream with him."

Two races cancelled after outage

The final two races on Friday's program at Gulfstream Park were cancelled due to a power failure that struck the track just prior to the seventh race and again during the race.

According to Gulfstream Park president Bill Murphy, two power surges hit the track.

"At this point all we know is that a situation occurred somewhere in our vicintiy, but not on the track grounds, which led to power surges which first cut off our regular supply of power to the track and then the backup generator, which had kicked in following the original surge," Murphy said shortly after making the decision to cancel the eighth and ninth races on the card.

The seventh race finished without incident and was made official, and winning bettors were paid. Power had been restored to parts of the track by late Friday afternoon.

Gulfstream also had to shut down its casino, which was in operation when the power failed.

Racing was expected to resume as scheduled on Saturday.