Updated on 09/15/2011 1:32PM

Velazquez enjoying career year


JAMAICA, N.Y. - On an unusually balmy late November morning at Belmont Park, jockey John Velazquez said he had no idea where he stood in the standings for the year in New York, he was just happy to have spent the entire year healthy and in the saddle.

After a check of the press office's statistics, Velazquez will be delighted to know that he holds a sizeable lead in the standings and will likely win his first year-end title in New York since becoming a regular on the circuit 11 years ago.

After booting home four winners on Wednesday's card, Velazquez has won 229 races from 1,023 mounts this year in New York, and leads Edgar Prado, who has 184 winners from 1,012 mounts. Velazquez also shows the way in money won with nearly $11 million.

This year nationally, Velazquez is ranked third in earnings with more than $14.2 million and fifth in races won with 293.

Velazquez, the runner-up for New York's title on three occasions, is scheduled to begin a two-week vacation this weekend with his wife, Leona, and their daughter, Lerina, to visit family in Puerto Rico. He will return to ride at Aqueduct the week before Christmas and then leave for Florida, where he will ride during the winter, the day after Christmas.

Velazquez should have no trouble maintaining his advantage while on vacation, because Prado, who rode in Japan last weekend, won't return to Aqueduct until Dec. 5 and will remain here through Dec. 16 before heading to Florida.

Velazquez is coming off an incredible weekend, winning five stakes in three days. Last Friday at the Big A, Velazquez captured the Top Flight with Cat Cay. On Saturday, his 30th birthday, Velazquez swept the three stakes on the Aqueduct card with Left Bank in the $350,000 Cigar Mile, Saarland in the $200,000 Remsen, and Smok'n Frolic in the $200,000 Demoiselle. And if that wasn't enough, Velazquez flew to California and rode Starine to victory in Sunday's $500,000 Matriarch at Hollywood Park.

Velazquez, a winner of 25 stakes in New York this year, second only to Jerry Bailey's 27, managed just nine New York stakes wins last year. Velazquez finished 2000 with $10,794,003 in earnings and 200 races won.

Those 2000 numbers are reflective of the time Velazquez spent on the sidelines last year nursing an injured collarbone, which he broke in a spill at Saratoga. The injury forced the rider to miss the bulk of the Saratoga meet and additional time in the fall when he required two procedures to alleviate the extreme discomfort the broken bone was causing him.

Velazquez, who won this year's spring meet at Belmont Park and currently tops the fall meet standings at Aqueduct, doesn't underestimate the role staying healthy played in his success this year.

"It's been an unbelievably great year," the rider said. "I'm really blessed that I've stayed healthy and rode good horses. This is the first year in a while that I pretty much rode the whole year healthy. I didn't just ride one good horse; I rode many horses all year long that carried me through the year. So rather than pick one particular horse that stood out for me, I pick the whole year as a highlight. I think this year has put me at a different level."

Velazquez's agent, Angel Cordero Jr., captured the New York riding title eight times, including two stretches when the Hall of Fame rider won three consecutive titles.

"What I'm most proud of Johnny is that he is riding [winners] at 20 percent from that amount of horses," Cordero said. "When I was riding, I was 17 or 18 [percent] for the year."

Tis the season for Boston Party

Even though the temperature has been on the mild side, the calendar says winter is around the corner and that is a sign that * is gearing up for his winter campaign.

Boston Party, a 5-year-old, is scheduled to defend his title in Saturday's $100,000-added Queens County, a 1 3/16-mile handicap.

Boston Party never does his best running in the warm weather, so his connections gave him much of the summer off. He returned to the races on Nov. 12, his first race since July 7, and finished third, beaten 3 1/2 lengths, in a classified allowance race.

Boston Party was gaining ground at the finish of the 1 1/8-mile race and Laurie LaFavers, who assists trainer Lenny Imperio with Boston Party's training, was pleased with the effort.

"He ran a huge race off a layoff," LaFavers said. "I also didn't want to kill him for that race because there is a long winter ahead. He was stuck on the outside and was finishing well. You couldn't ask for more.

"He's doing great," she added. "He likes this kind of weather and has never liked getting sweaty and hot."

Expected to face Boston Party, who was assigned 112 pounds, are Balto Star, the

118-pound starting highweight, Cat's at Home (114), Country Be Gold (116), Evening Attire (113), Runspastum (114), Top Official (113), and Talk's Cheap (114).

Affirmed Success will remain in training

* returned to the track on Wednesday for the first time since finishing fifth in the Grade 1 Cigar Mile.

Trainer Richard Schosberg, who remarked Affirmed Success was "bucking and playing," said the 7-year-old gelding will remain in training and likely will run this winter at Aqueduct or at Laurel Park.

In 2000, Affirmed Success won the General George Handicap at Laurel in February, in his first start after capturing the Cigar Mile three months earlier.

"He only ran five times this year, and while he might not be as fast as he was when he was 5, he still goes out there and does it every time," Schosberg said. "He came out of the [Cigar] fine. Those horses, Left Bank and Graeme Hall, are pretty darn good."

Affirmed Success's preferred distance is seven furlongs and that distance isn't run over the one-mile inner track, which is scheduled to open on Wednesday. The General George is a seven-furlong race.

"We might give him a shot over the inner track at two turns at a mile or a mile and 70 yards; he's won at two turns," Schosberg said.

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