Some people are surprised to discover that a number of the top jockeys in the history of horse racing in the US are from Puerto Rico. Who are the best jockeys from here who have ridden to fame over the years?
Born in Carolina in 1971, Velazquez began racing in Puerto Rico before moving to New York to continue his career, where it didn’t take him long to start winning races. He is believed to be the highest-earning jockey in history, with over $400 million earned from the more than 5,000 winners he has ridden over a long, massively successful career.
Among the highlights of his life as a professional jockey are the five Triple Crown races where he has come home in first place.
A look at previous winners of the Kentucky Derby reveals that he claimed this prestigious title in 2020 on Authentic, in 2017 with Always Dreaming, and in 2011 on Animal Kingdom. Check out the complete list here: https://www.twinspires.com/kentuckyderby/winners
In addition, Velazquez has won the Breeders’ Cup a remarkable 15 times, as well as romping home in first place at the likes of the Dubai World Cup, the Kentucky Oaks, and the Woodbine Mile.
Irad Ortiz Jr.
While John Velazquez has been winning the biggest American races for decades, Irad Ortiz Jr is a newer name on the pro horse racing circuit. He was born in Trujillo Alto in 1992, to a family with strong horse racing traditions.
After a spectacular start to his career on the island in 2011, he moved to the US mainland and carried on winning. He was won several awards as he has ridden to success in races such as the Breeder’s Cup, which he won on Lady Eli in 2014. In the same event in 2019, he won four races.
If we look at the national jockey earning charts, we can see that he was at number 97 in his first year racing in the US, before rapidly moving up in the years after that. He reached the number one spot in 2018 and 2019, with his career earnings getting close to $200 million.
Ángel Cordero Jr.
If we go back a few years, we can find the first Puerto Rican jockey to be inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame in the US. Cordero Jr was born in Santurce in 1942, with many horse trainers and jockeys among his closest relatives.
He broke a number of records after moving to the mainland to continue with his career. Among his most notable feats, Cordero Jr became the first jockey from the island to win the three American Classic Races, with three Kentucky Derby wins putting him amongst the select company of riders who have won this important race so many times.
His achievements include being the leading jockey at the Saratoga Race Course for an impressive thirteen years. His consistent levels of success over a long period meant that he became only the fourth jockey to win more than 7,000 races, a feat which he achieved in 1987. His career virtually ended in 1992 after a bad fall, although he returned briefly to the saddle after that.
Other Big Names
The rich history of Puerto Rican jockeys includes names such as Eddie Belmonte, who was the first Puerto Rican to ride in the Kentucky Derby, in 1966 and who retired in 1977. Alberto Delgado was ranked as the outstanding apprentice jockey in 1982 and carried out most of his competitive career at the Del Mar racetrack in California.
Manuel Franco has been riding competitively since 2013, but he reached a new level of fame in 2020 when he rode to victory on Tiz the Law in the Belmont Stakes.