11/01/2004 12:00AM

Velazquez at his best on big day


GRAND PRAIRIE, Texas - As John Velazquez studied the Breeders' Cup races the night before the event, he thought he could be sitting on potentially the biggest day of his career.

He wasn't wrong.

Velazquez had a huge day, winning two Breeders' Cup races and finishing second in three others at Lone Star Park. Velazquez won the Distaff aboard Ashado and the Sprint on Speightstown. Both horses were trained by his main client, Todd Pletcher. Velazquez's second-place finishes came aboard Roses in May (Classic), Kitten's Joy (Turf), and Film Maker (Filly and Mare Turf). Longshot Sis City finished fourth in the Juvenile Fillies, and Nothing to Lose (11th in the Mile) and Proud Accolade (sixth in the Juvenile) were his only disappointments.

"Going into the races, I did like a lot of the horses," Velazquez said. "I knew I was going into the races very strong. I was reading the Form the night before and I thought [Corey] Nakatani and I could have a really good day. He ended up winning one, I won two."

By virtue of his big day, Velazquez was awarded the Bill Shoemaker Award, given by the media to the jockey deemed to have the best performance on Breeders' Cup Day.

Now, Velazquez, 32, is in line for an even bigger honor - his first Eclipse Award as the nation's top jockey. Velazquez's mounts earned $3,130,200 on Saturday. For the year, Velazquez's mounts have earned $21,029,977 - $4.3 million more than Edgar Prado, who is in second place. Velazquez has 317 wins - third best in the country - including 50 stakes victories.

"I think it would be great," said Velazquez, who trails Jerry Bailey's single-season earnings record by $2.3 million. "I think it would be great for Todd and myself, too. We've done so well for so many years on the East Coast, maybe we'll get recognized for it now. I think Todd deserves it more than anybody."

Velazquez has been the main rider for Pletcher the last several years. Though they teamed up to win the Kentucky Oaks with Ashado in the spring, Saturday was their biggest day. Velazquez had won four Breeders' Cup races, but Pletcher was 0 for 12 in the series.

"It was great for me to get Todd his first Breeders' Cup; it was extra special," Velazquez said. "He's been behind me 100 percent, and he's always given me great opportunities."

Pletcher, who is also in line for the Eclipse Award, as top trainer, said an Eclipse Award for Velazquez should be "a slam dunk."

Velazquez said he was particularly pleased with Speightstown's performance, because it enabled the horse to bounce back from a disappointing third-place finish behind Pico Central in the Vosburgh at Belmont in early October. In that race, Speightstown bobbled at the start and, according to Velazquez, jammed his ankle and didn't perform to his best.

"He showed up [Saturday] like he showed up all year except that race in New York," said Velazquez, who added he would have loved to have run against Pico Central in the Sprint.

Velazquez said things got pretty tight on Ashado around the turn in the Distaff, "but once she got out of there and I saw the hole opening up around the quarter pole, she responded right away. She showed a lot of heart."

Velazquez perhaps could have had a third winner on the day, but Kitten's Joy encountered traffic trouble in the $2 million Turf when Better Talk Now drifted in on Magistretti, who in turn came in on Kitten's Joy.

Velazquez claimed foul against Better Talk Now, who is trained by Graham Motion. Earlier on the card, Velazquez rode the Motion-trained Film Maker to a second-place performance in the Filly and Mare Turf.

"He wanted to strangle me," joked Velazquez, who said he saw Motion at a party Saturday night. "I had to do it. Even the owners said they would have wanted me to do it if I was riding their horse."

In the Classic, Velazquez said he believes he simply ran into a freak in Ghostzapper.

"At the quarter pole he ran away from me and he just started running," Velazquez said of Ghostzapper. "My horse never stopped running. The other horse ran out of his mind."