Jockey Velazquez injured, horse euthanized at Keeneland

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) – Top jockey John Velazquez was injured Thursday at Keeneland when his horse collapsed and rolled onto him after winning the Forerunner Stakes.

The two-time Eclipse Award-winning jockey was taken by ambulance to University of Kentucky Hospital for testing and X-rays, where he was stable Thursday night.

Velazquez was injured when Up an Octave broke down and fell about a sixteenth of a mile past the finish line. Barry Schumer, a Keeneland doctor, said Velazquez was “awake and alert” following the race.

Up an Octave fractured a leg after the race and had to be euthanized on the track, Keeneland spokeswoman Amy Gregory said. Shortly after the finish line, the horse threw Velazquez forward and then collapsed on top of him. Velazquez was carried on a stretcher to a first aid facility at the track.

“It’s very upsetting,” said Tristan Barry, an assistant for Todd Pletcher, who trained the horse. “It’s a pretty awful day.”

Barry said he understood Velazquez was being examined for shoulder injuries among others.

Velazquez, considered among the nation’s best riders, is the regular rider for Pletcher. Among the 3-year-olds Velazquez could ride in the Kentucky Derby are Keyed Entry and Bluegrass Cat, who finished a disappointing fourth in Saturday’s Blue Grass Stakes.

The 34-year-old Puerto Rico native ranked third in purse money this year with $4,489,006 through Wednesday’s races.

Along with Rafael Bejarano, Velazquez is a rising star among jockeys with the recent retirements of Hall of Famers Gary Stevens, Pat Day and Jerry Bailey.

Alex Solis, a fellow jockey who is a close friend of Velazquez, said he tried to call him when he got the news.

“It’s really terrible,” Solis said. “We’re just praying everything was OK. That’s the stinky part of it. We’re all aware these things can happen. If you can be in this business, you really have to love it.”

Velazquez was an outspoken supporter two years ago of an effort among jockeys to donate 5 percent of their earnings from the Breeders’ Cup to pay medical bills for Gary Birzer, who was paralyzed in a race.

“Whenever somebody gets hurt, we try to get some guys together and get a collection to get some sort of money to the person who needs it,” Velazquez said at the time. “But this one is a pretty severe tragedy, so we are trying to do something a little more aggressive to raise a little more money for him.”

Last month the Kentucky House approved a measure that would provide workers’ compensation benefits for thoroughbred jockeys seriously injured in a race. Gov. Ernie Fletcher has pushed for the coverage and Congress also is considering it.

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