It took two decades, but late last month, Johnny Velazquez etched his name into history, becoming Saratoga's all-time leading jockey. On Friday, he was honored alongside the Spa's two other top riders. YNN's Matt Hunter reports.
SARATOGA RACE COURSE -- As a trio, they've won more than 2,000 races and amassed 25 riding titles at Saratoga. On Friday, John Velazquez, Jerry Bailey and Angel Cordero Jr. were celebrated together as the Spa's three all-time leading jockeys.
The ceremony came nearly a month after Velazquez visited the winner's circle for the 694th time and eclipsed Jerry Bailey's old all-time mark. Years earlier, Bailey had done the same to the great Cordero.
"It took me years and years to try and beat this one right here," Bailey said of Cordero during the festivities. "Then toward the end of my career, I had to hold off this one [Velazquez] who was taught by this one! So you could imagine how difficult it was."
"I know how hard I worked for it, I know how hard it is and I'm sure it was the same for them too," Cordero said.
Certainly the 1970s and 80s belonged to Cordero, who passed the torch to Bailey only after winning a record 14 titles, including 11 straight.
Before Bailey was gone, Velazquez would ascend to the top in the sport, learning from both along the way.
"I'm glad I'm honored and to be named in between these two guys here," Velazquez said after winning the day's first race. "I think they're the best two riders I've seen in my career."
Last summer, Velazquez followed his two predecessors into the Hall of Fame. Their likenesses are now seen side by side on a new plaque outside the very jockey's room, where each built a career's worth of memories.
"To do something like that for the jockeys and the fans, it's unbelievable," Velazquez said.
"This [Saratoga] is such a unique place," Bailey said when addressing the crowd at the ceremony. "Believe me when I tell you, at least for me, I enjoyed the interaction with you fans up here in Saratoga as much as I hope you enjoyed interacting with us."
"The crowd is different, the ambience is different," said Cordero, who's earned the nickname "King of Saratoga." "This is a very special place, let's put it that way, a very, very special place."
The 41-year-old Velazquez, the only one of the three who's still active, is approaching 730 career wins at Saratoga and says he has no plans to retire in the near future.