May 1, 2019
NYRA/Coglianese Photo

Derby-veteran Velazquez ready for renewed Kentucky Derby engagement

by NYRA Press Office

  • Consistent New York-based duo Tax and Haikal all set for Derby date
  • Edmund Davis relishes first career victory
  • Migliore joining America's Day at the Races telecasts
  • Oaks and Derby weekend at Churchill Downs will serve as Turf Triple preview
  • Festivities abound at Belmont Park for Derby Day

Jockey John Velazquez is already part of an exclusive club when it comes to Kentucky Derby riders. The 2012 Hall of Fame inductee is one of just eight riders to have at least 20 mounts through the Run for the Roses' previous 144 iterations.

Velazquez will have his 21st career Derby mount when he pilots W.S. Farish's Code of Honor on May 4. The winner of the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth on March 2 at Gulfstream Park will be Velazquez's seventh mount in the last eight runnings of the Derby and will mark the colt's Churchill Downs debut off a third-place finish in the Grade 1 Florida Derby on March 30 at Gulfstream.

Code of Honor put in his final breeze on Sunday at Churchill, going four furlongs in 46.80 seconds on the main track; the second-fastest of 76 in the group.

"I saw him work [Sunday] and it looked good, just a little fast, but that's the way it seemed everyone was working," Velazquez said. "He looks like he's doing well, and hopefully he can continue come the race."

Velazquez has won the Triple Crown's opening leg twice, with the Graham Motion-trained Animal Kingdom in 2011 and the Todd Pletcher-conditioned Always Dreaming in 2017. The 47-year-old native of Carolina, Puerto Rico will be looking to become just the 11th jockey all-time with three Derby wins. Bill Hartack and Eddie Arcaro are tied for the all-time lead with five victories apiece.

"It's incredible. This is why we're here," Velazquez said about riding in the Derby. "This is what we dream about. This is one of the races that's well-known throughout the world, so it's exciting to be there."

Velazquez didn't win his first Derby until his 13th try when he led 20-1 shot Animal Kingdom to a 2 ¾-length score eight years ago. He had come close with Invisible Ink running second to Monarchos in 2001, which was the first time he finished on the board in the race.

"It takes some pressure off. You go in with confidence," Velazquez said of his previous wins. "Looking back at the past, riding all those races without winning it, it [humbles] you. But I'm pretty confident, so we'll see what happens. Hopefully, you get a good trip."

Code of Honor, trained by Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey, drew post 13 and is 15-1 on the morning line. McGaughey has saddled one previous Derby winner with Orb in 2013.

Velazquez, a two-time Eclipse Award-winner for Outstanding Jockey for 2004 and 2005, has also won two Belmont Stakes in his career, with Rags to Riches in 2007 and Union Rags in 2012, and has twice finished second in the Preakness.

He is one of just 19 jockeys in North America to amass 6,000 career wins. His career earnings in excess of $402 million is the most in history.

* * *

Consistent New York-based duo Tax and Haikal all set for Derby date

New York-based charges Tax and Haikal fortify what is a substantial presence of NYRA form in this year's Kentucky Derby, and both arrived in good keeping at Churchill Downs on Monday and have had two days to settle in and acclimate to the local dirt.

The second and third-placed finishers from the Grade 2 Wood Memorial presented by NYRA Bets each enter the 10-furlong affair with salty back-class, consistent form and connections that must be respected.

Second in the Wood Memorial, Tax has been-much like his namesake-unavoidable in the top races in New York for his generation. The gelded son of Arch was a game second in November's Grade 2 Remsen, won February's Grade 3 Withers and was a begrudging runner-up in a roughly run Wood Memorial four weeks ago-all three at a testing nine-furlong trip. He will keep jockey Junior Alvarado, who was aboard for his last two runs, in the Derby.

"I'm happy with how he's coming into the race," said trainer Danny Gargan. "We wouldn't be running if we didn't have a chance and he likes to run. He's a horse who has improved with each race."

Claimed out of an October maiden-breaking heat at Keeneland for $50,000 from breeders Claiborne Farm and Adele B. Dilschneider, he is now owned by R.A. Hill Stable, Reeves Thoroughbreds and Hugh Lynch and Corms Racing Stable and has hit the board in all five efforts. His best was his aforementioned victory in the Withers in which he stumbled at the start and still fought on gamely up the rail to defeat Not That Brady and Our Braintrust.

"He's run good every time I've run him," Gargan continued. "He ran a little better than it looks in the Wood. When you have a points situation, you have to be a little more aggressive and that we may have moved too soon and that cost us from being the winner.

"I wanted to keep him two turns and in New York, you have to go nine furlongs at Aqueduct," he continued. "Because of that, he has a big foundation and really gallops out in his works. I never wanted to shorten him up, which is why I skipped the (one-mile) Gotham with him and I'm glad I did. I think he will love the (Derby) distance)."

Haikal, a homebred of Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum's Shadwell Stable, appears to also want the distance, which has been a bit of a surprise for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. The son of Grade 1 Cigar Mile winner Daaher is a half-brother to Grade 1 Vosburgh winner Takaful.

"He has the mind to get the distance and is by (a miler) in Daaher, while Takaful was always so difficult to train and didn't have the mind to run long but was by (Travers and Jockey Club Gold Cup winner) Bernardini," McLaughlin said. "It's unusual to go from a six-furlong race to a seven, eight, nine and now a 10-furlong race in the Derby, but that's how it's happened with Haikal and he's stepped up each time."

Also a five-time starter, Haikal has not missed the board, either, including breaking his maiden in December at Aqueduct over six furlongs, which was followed by a game, closing run to victory in the seven-furlong $150,000 Jimmy Winkfield in February. He picked it up yet again in the Gotham over a mile, running down favorites Mind Control and Instagrand to win by a widening length in a sharp time of 1:35.63 before a closing third, beaten four lengths, in the Wood Memorial.

Jockey Rajiv Maragh, who has ridden Haikal in his last four starts, retains the mount.

"We love New York for our younger horses," McLaughlin said. "Sometimes you can say it's easier than Florida, but the program is a good one and it's often worked out really well for us. I'm pleased that the owners let us do what we need to do and keep them there."

On Tuesday morning at the post-position draw, Tax drew post two and Haikal post 11 of the 20 horses set to take part.

* * *

Edmund Davis relishes first career victory

Whether it be in the saddle or saddling a thoroughbred, winning horse races is a family tradition in the Davis household. In Sunday's seventh race at Belmont, trainer Edmund Davis, son of jockey Robbie Davis, scored his first career victory as a trainer with a hard-fought effort from Tiz Morning.

The 12th time was the charm for the 4-year-old son of Morning Line, who put up a victorious fight the length of the Belmont stretch run to out duel Presto and win by a neck.

"It was very exciting. I'm really happy about it," Davis said. "We put a lot of time and effort into the barn and hard work pays off. I was so proud of him, with just the way that he fought on. I knew he had it in him. A lot of horses would get discouraged, but not him."

A career in racing was destined for Edmund, who is named after the late Edmund Gann, a prominent racehorse owner who campaigned multiple Grade 1-winner and prolific sire Medaglia d'Oro.

His siblings, Dylan, Katie and Jackie are all riders and as a young man, the younger Davis wanted to follow in his multiple Grade 1-winning father's footsteps and become a jockey as well.

"Growing up really, the only thing that I wanted to do was to be a jockey," Davis said. "I would run home from school and watch my dad ride in the afternoons and I just loved it."

While Davis didn't ride horses in the afternoon, he has experienced the speed and exhilaration of the thoroughbred as an exercise rider during morning training.

"There's just something about that smell, and that feeling of being on a horse and being on the backstretch. The feeling you get from it is amazing. When you get exposed to racing at a young age, it's something you can't let go of," said Davis.

Davis also acknowledged trainer Jimmy Jerkens, whom he worked under for two years, as a strong influence in his career.

"I was lucky enough to work for Jimmy and I got a lot out of it. I galloped top quality horses like [two-time Grade 1 winner] Shaman Ghost and [three-time graded stakes winner] Holy Helena," Davis said. "I've never met a better horseman in my life. There is just so much attention to detail from the feed, to the training. He can look at a horse for ten seconds and be able to say whether or not it was doing well. He's a phenomenal horseman and he always treats each horse as an individual."

Davis said he and his father shared a moment following Sunday's race that both are sure to never forget.

"He gave me a big hug and was super happy for me," Davis said. "He said, 'Good job' and we just soaked it in together. It was just a gratifying and proud moment for us both."

* * *

Migliore joining America's Day at the Races telecasts

Former jockey Richard Migliore will join the America's Day at the Races telecasts starting with Friday's broadcast and continuing throughout the Belmont spring/summer meet.

Beginning on Friday, May 1, Migliore, who rode 4,450 career winners in his career and won the Eclipse Award as the nation's top apprentice rider in 1981, will rejoin the FOX Sports/NYRA broadcast team marking his return to covering the NYRA circuit following a brief retirement in 2018.

"I'm excited and looking forward to joining such a talented group of racing analysts and handicappers," said Migliore. "I've always enjoyed working in New York and greatly appreciate this opportunity to join these top quality shows on FOX Sports."

Migliore joins a broadcast team that includes hosts Greg Wolf and Laffit Pincay III, handicapper and racing analyst Andy Serling, paddock analyst Maggie Wolfendale, Hall of Fame rider and expert analyst Gary Stevens, handicapper Jonathon Kinchen, trainer turned analyst Tom Amoss, and handicapper and former Major League Baseball all-star Paul LoDuca. Larry Collmus, NYRA announcer and voice of the Triple Crown, will provide live race calls throughout the year.

Presented by America's Best Racing, Runhappy and Claiborne Farm, and produced by NYRA Television, America's Day at the Races airs nationally on FS2 with regional coverage in the tri-state area found on MSG+.

In 2019, FOX Sports is slated to televise 500 hours of NYRA racing, including coverage of nearly every race day at Belmont and Saratoga. The broadcast schedule will then expand to over 600 hours annually in 2020. This agreement builds upon the prior deal between NYRA and FOX Sports that resulted in more than 100 hours of NYRA coverage on FS2 in 2018.

For additional biographical information on members of the broadcast team, please visit

* * *

Oaks and Derby weekend at Churchill Downs will serve as Turf Triple preview

Oaks and Derby weekend at Churchill Downs will also serve as a showcase for contenders for the recently launched Turf Triple series, offering $5.25 million in purse money, for turf sophomores over three legs at Belmont Park and Saratoga Race Course.

The Turf Trinity, for 3-year-old males, kicks off with the Grade 1, $1 million Belmont Derby Invitational on Stars & Stripes Day, July 6; while the first leg of the Turf Tiara, for 3-year-old fillies, will be the Grade 1, $750,000 Belmont Oaks Invitational, also on Stars & Stripes Day.

Friday sixth race at Churchill (1:17 p.m ET), the $250,000 Grade 3 Edgewood, will feature undefeated starlet Newspaperofrecord headlining a seven-horse field in a 1 1/16-mile turf test.

Trained by Chad Brown for Klaravich Stables, the Irish-bred Newspaperofrecord is undefeated through three starts over yielding turf. The Lope de Vega bay romped to a 6 3/4-length victory in her August debut at Saratoga and proved her class with a 6 1/2-length score in the Grade 2 Miss Grillo at Belmont Park. She capped off an impressive juvenile campaign with a 6 3/4-length score in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf.

She will be challenged by stablemate Cambier Parc, who Brown trains for OXO Equine. The Medaglia d'Oro bay, out of Canada's 2007 Horse of the Year Sealy Hill, debuted in the mud in November at Aqueduct, finishing fourth. She has won her two subsequent starts, including a last out score in the Grade 3 Herecomesthebride at Gulfstream Park.

Irad Ortiz, Jr. will pilot Newspaperofrecord from the inside post while his brother Jose Ortiz has the call on Cambier Parc from post 2.

Saturday's ninth race at Churchill (3:37 p.m. ET), the Grade 2, $400,000 American Turf, features the streaking A Thread of Blue, trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, challenging a field of 13 over 1 1/16-miles on the turf.

A Thread of Blue, by Hard Spun, shipped to Kentucky from Gulfstream Park where he captured an allowance race on December 22 and followed up with wins in the Dania Beach and Grade 3 Palm Beach. Owned by Leonard Green, A Thread of Blue graduated on the Belmont main track in October. Luis Saez, aboard for all three of the colt's current win streak, retains the mount from the inside post.

A Thread of Blue's chief opposition in the American Turf will come from the undefeated Digital Age; Canadian-bred Abie's Flatter; and the rich Henley's Joy.

Trained by Chad Brown for Klaravich Stables, Digital Age is perfect through two starts at Tampa Bay Downs and arrives at Saturday's test from a head score over American Turf rival Forever Mo. Ortiz, Jr. has the call from post 3.

Avie's Flatter, the winterbook favorite for the Queen's Plate at Woodbine, is on a three-race win streak that includes a last-out score in the Grade 3 Transylvania on the Keeneland turf. Hall of Fame rider Javier Castellano retains the mount from post 8 for owner-breeder Ivan Dalos.

Henley's Joy, trained by Mike Maker for Bloom Racing Stable, boasts a record of three wins and three seconds from eight starts and a field-best $402,160 in purse earnings. The Kitten's Joy chestnut won the Kentucky Downs Juvenile in September and also captured the Pulpit at Gulfstream Park in December. Hall of Famer Mike Smith will ride from post 10.

The $1 million Belmont Derby Invitational on July 6, contested at 1 1/4-miles on the Belmont turf to kick off the Turf Trinity, will be broadcast live on NBC. The two additional legs of the Turf Trinity will include the inaugural $1 million Saratoga Derby on August 4 at Saratoga Race Course and concludes at Belmont with the first running of the $1 million Jockey Club Derby on September 7.

The 3-year-old fillies will start their path on the Turf Tiara with the Grade 1, $750,000 Belmont Oaks Invitational, at 1 1/4-miles on the Belmont turf on July 6. The Turf Tiara continues August 2 with the inaugural $750,000 Saratoga Oaks, held at 1 3/16-miles. The final jewel of the Turf Tiara, the first-ever $750,000 Jockey Club Oaks slated for September 7 at Belmont, will be contested at 1 3/8-miles on the turf, and will air live on NBC as part of an action-packed weekend of racing to raise the curtain on the Belmont fall meet.

For more information on the Turf Triple Series, please visit

* * *

Festivities abound at Belmont Park for Derby Day

Kentucky Derby Day on Saturday, May 4 at Belmont Park, will feature a special first post of 12 p.m. ET for a 12-race card highlighted by a trio of graded stakes races, including the Grade 2, $200,000 Sheepshead Bay; the Grade 3, $200,000 Westchester; and the Grade 3, $150,000 Fort Marcy. Gates will open at 10 a.m. on Saturday at Belmont.

Post time for the 12th and final race on the Derby Day card at Belmont is 6:15 p.m. with the 145th running of the Kentucky Derby set for 6:50 p.m. ET.

Among a number of activities at beautiful Belmont Park on Derby Day is the Bourbon Festival, which will be held at the North Shore Terrace from 3-7 p.m. More than 30 bourbons, beers and hard ciders will be available for tastings, with admission to the park starting at 10 a.m. and access to the exclusive tastings beginning at 3 p.m. Guests will also receive handicapping advice and betting strategies from the NYRA Bets Squad.

Tickets are $65 per person and can be purchased online via Ticketmaster or by calling 844-NYRA-TIX. For more information, visit

Derby Day also marks the return of College Day at Belmont where the first 500 college students with valid I.D. will receive a Belmont Park commemorative t-shirt. Belmont's spacious backyard will feature a live DJ, giant-sized games of foosball, basketball, and ping pong. A best-dressed contest, with categories for both men and women, will offer a prize of $250 each for the best Kentucky Derby-themed outfit.

For more information, visit

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