SARATOGA SPRINGS -- More than a month after he broke his collarbone and suffered kidney trauma in a three-horse spill, Saratoga's two-time defending riding champion is back. John Velazquez is named on two horses on Wednesday's card, his first mounts since he was injured June 16 at Churchill Downs.
"I'm really excited to get back to the races," Velazquez said. "It's been five weeks since I last raced, and that's too long for me."
The 40-year-old native of Puerto Rico will return on 2-year-old filly Lucky Friend for trainer Todd Pletcher. Velazquez will try to win his fourth graded stakes on the 3-year-old filly Stephanie's Kitten in the Grade II Lake George on the turf.
Velazquez began working out horses eight days ago, after receiving medical clearance from Dr. Stephen O'Brien of the Hospital for Special Surgery in Manhattan. Velazquez said he'll ease back in, accepting only a few rides a day at first. He said there's "no way'' that he'll be able to earn his sixth title at the meet. His 655 victories put him 38 behind all-time Spa leader Jerry Bailey.
"I'm going to take it slow at the start," Velazquez said, "so it might be difficult to catch Jerry this year. I'll hopefully get some nice winners, and setting the record will come whenever it comes."
On Aug. 10, Velazquez will be inducted into the Hall of Fame directly across Union Avenue from the racetrack, 24 years after his mentor and longtime agent, Angel Cordero Jr., was voted in.
"Johnny's like a son to me, and I'm very happy for him getting into the Hall of Fame," Cordero said in a telephone interview. "I'm real proud of him, but more proud of him as a person than as a rider. He's a great father, a great husband and a great friend."
Ramon Dominguez won the opener Monday for the third consecutive day. It was his meet-high 10th victory and seventh in his last eight mounts . . . Pletcher said he hasn't decided whether Gemologist will run here Saturday in the Grade II Jim Dandy or Sunday in the Grade I Haskell at Monmouth Park. Gemologist breezed 5 furlongs in 58.2 Sunday. He hasn't raced since finishing 16th in the Kentucky Derby, his first loss in a six-race career. He bruised his left front foot in the Derby, according to WinStar Farm CEO Elliott Walden . . . Pletcher has had an uncharacteristically slow start (1-for-22) . . . A 13-minute thunderstorm featuring snake lightning hit at 3:25 p.m., shortly after the fifth race. The track remained listed as fast . . . Sidelined Yankees closer Mariano Rivera will host a fundraiser for his children's foundation Aug. 9 at a Saratoga Springs restaurant . . . Cornelio Velasquez rode three winners, and Junior Alvarado won the Evan Shipman Stakes for New York-breds on favored Lunar Victory ($4.40).
Only at the Spa
A middle-aged man in a seersucker suit was seen ascending the clubhouse escalator holding six polo mallets. Perhaps he also attends the U.S. Open in a tennis outfit while carrying his rackets.