LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — John Velazquez won the Kentucky Derby by a broken nose.
An injury to Animal Kingdom’s regular rider, Robby Albarado, cleared the way for Velazquez to pick up the mount and once he took the reins Saturday, he rode his good luck all the way to the winner’s circle.
“For once, I’m on the good end of it,” Velazquez said. The last three years, the New York-based jockey came to Churchill Downs with a colt considered a leading contender, only to have it withdrawn.
This time, he was supposed to ride Uncle Mo before the colt was scratched due to a lingering stomach problem. Then Albarado breaks his nose when he’s thrown off his horse and kicked in the face before a race.
“All of a sudden I pick up this one and he wins the Derby, so it was meant to be,” he said.
Trainer Graham Motion got lucky, too.
His top Derby horse, Wood Memorial winner Toby’s Corner, never even made it to Louisville. He had a leg injury and never left Motion’s barn in Maryland.
Animal Kingdom, who’d never raced on dirt before, reacted to his new rider the way a champion should, charging down the middle of the stretch to win by 2¾ lengths.
Nehro was second and Mucho Macho Man was another neck back in third.
Dialed In went off as the 5-1 favorite, but finished eighth.
“It’s words that you can’t describe,” Velazquez said. “But I do really feel really bad for Robby. I hope he’s winning the Derby with me here. I know he got hurt so this is for both of us, buddy. I know you’re not on it, but I know you’re with me.”
Animal Kingdom went off as a 20-1 longshot in the lightly regarded field. He won the Spiral Stakes on the synthetic surface at Turfway Park on March 26, but had never before run on dirt.
He looked right at home under the twin spires.
Velazquez deftly kept Animal Kingdom out of trouble in the 19-horse field and the colt covered the 1 1/4-mile distance in 2:02.04.
Arkansas Derby winner Archarcharch, who started from the rail, was vanned off the track with a leg injury and was taken to the backside barns for an X-ray.