Jorge Velasquez, a six-time New York riding champion and a jockey whose mounts have earned more than $95 million, is coming to Hollywood Park to ride, starting next Thursday.
Velasquez, like another recent import from New York, Jacinto Vasquez, plans to stay in California if his business is good.
Velasquez, who will be 41 Dec. 28, won the Kentucky Derby in 1981 with Pleasant Colony and in 1985 rode Proud Truth and Twilight Ridge to victory in the Breeders' Cup at Aqueduct. Riding many horses for trainer Wayne Lukas' Eastern division, Velasquez registered 57 stakes victories in 1985, a record that still stands.
Last year, however, Velasquez was no longer riding that frequently for Lukas, and he signed a contract to ride in France for Mahmoud Fustok. The winners didn't materialize, Velasquez' wife and three children had difficulty adjusting to the French life style and shortly after he misjudged the finish line with one of Fustok's horses in a stake race, the agreement ended and he returned to the United States.
Vic Gilardi, Velasquez's long-time agent, was booking mounts for another jockey, and business turned slow in New York. Before Wednesday's races at Aqueduct, Velasquez had 32 winners out of 413 mounts in New York this year.
He won the Alabama at Saratoga in August with Up the Apalachee and took the Young America at the Meadowlands last month with Firery Ensign. Firery Ensign and Velasquez finished eighth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Hollywood Park last Saturday.
Breaking horses quickly is considered an asset when competing against speed-conscious California jockeys, but Velasquez has never been known as a particularly effective gate rider. Still, with leading jockeys Gary Stevens and Chris McCarron sidelined for perhaps two months, there will be some intense scrambling by agents to pick up the horses they have been riding.
Stevens suffered a broken ankle the week before the Breeders' Cup and McCarron underwent surgery Monday to have a steel plate removed from his left leg.
Velasquez's agent in California will be Camilo Marin, who represented a couple of other Panamanian jockeys, Braulio Baeza and Laffit Pincay, early in their careers.
Caros Love, the fourth winner of the day ridden by apprentice Aaron Gryder, grabbed the lead at the halfway point Thursday and won the $107,000 On Trust Handicap by 1 lengths over favored Mark Chip before a crowd of 19,911 at the Fall Holiday Meeting Of Champions.
Caros Love carried 110 pounds and clocked 1:35 2/5 in the one-mile race for 3-year-olds and up. Winning for the third time in his last five starts, Caros Love paid $19.40, $5.60 and $2.80. The victory was worth $62,000.
Gryder, 17, won the first race aboard Inquisitive, the sixth on Sum Kinda Gold and the seventh with First Silver Hawk.
Hollywood Park announced a 15% across-the-board increase to all overnight purses, the increase to be made retroactive to opening day of its current Fall Holiday Meeting of Champions.
In making the announcement, Chief Executive Officer Marjorie L. Everett and Hollywood Park General Manager Donald M. Robbins cited impressive on- and off-track pari-mutuel figures during the opening days of the meeting as reasons for making the wide-stepping increases possible.