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Latinx Heritage Month

On this day in Latinx history: Jockey John Velazquez sets North American record for career earnings

Puerto Rican rode in four races at Belmont Park to set the mark

When John Velazquez stepped onto Belmont Park’s track, he had $297,888,320 in career earnings but trailed the all-time purse mark by $26,519. Pat Day, the retired Hall of Fame jockey, set the record in 2005 with $297,914,839 in career purses.

When Velazquez left the Elmont, New York, horse racing track on Oct. 13, 2013, he did so as North America’s all-time leading money-earning jockey with $297,922,320.

Velazquez took on four mounts that day. He finished third in his first race, fourth in his third and third in the fifth race. His second-place result, riding filly Bit Bustin in the ninth race, earned $15,400, enough to put him over the top.

“It’s something that happened to happen, and I’m glad it happened,” Velazquez told USA Today Sports.

Overall, 2013 was a great year for Velazquez, who rode Unitarian to his 694th win and surpassed Jerry Bailey’s record at the Saratoga Race Course to become the all-time leading rider at the venue. That summer, Velazquez won his 5,000th career race at Belmont Park atop Galloping Giraffe.

In 2014, Velazquez became the first jockey to surpass $300 million in career purses. Velazquez’s earnings show no sign of slowing, as he won the 2017 Kentucky Derby aboard Always Dreaming and earned $1,635,800. This was his second victory in the first leg of the Triple Crown. He also won in 2011 atop Animal Kingdom.

“This is the best horse [trainer] Todd [Pletcher] and I have ever come to the Kentucky Derby with,” Velazquez told The Associated Press after winning atop Always Dreaming. “Being behind me for 24 years together, a long time for him to still trust in me and give me the opportunity, it’s not very often it happens in this business.”

Velazquez started his riding career in his native Puerto Rico, where he attended jockey school, and came to the U.S. mainland in 1990 at age 18. Hall of Fame jockey Angel Cordero Jr., who eventually became Velazquez’s agent, started out as his mentor.

It took eight years before Velazquez won the first of five Saratoga riding titles. He earned the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Jockey in 2004 and 2005. He is an 11-time Breeders’ Cup champion and two-time Belmont Stakes winner, and in 2009 he received the George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award.

His 2007 Belmont victory with Rags to Riches was historic in that it was the first time in 102 years that a filly won the final leg of the Triple Crown. Five years later, Velazquez rode Union Rags to the winner’s circle at the Stakes.

He was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 2012.

Rhiannon Walker is an associate editor at The Undefeated. She is a drinker of Sassy Cow Creamery chocolate milk, an owner of an extensive Disney VHS collection, and she might have a heart attack if Frank Ocean doesn't drop his second album.