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Although restrained, Velazquez relieved to finally win a Derby

BALTIMORE — Throughout what will almost certainly go down as a Hall of Fame career, jockey John Velazquez has become a master of the happy medium, adept at moving past harsh disappointments and relishing victories.

Velazquez's steely mind-set got him through one of the most emotional episodes of his life. The days of wondering whether there was a Kentucky Derby win in his future came to an end two weeks ago when he guided long-shot Animal Kingdom to victory one day after picking up the mount.

Velazquez was thrilled after his 0-for-12 slump came to an end. But the circumstances that put him aboard Animal Kingdom in the first place prompted a restrained celebration from the two-time Eclipse Award winner.

Fellow rider and friend Robby Albarado was set to ride Animal Kingdom but was replaced with Velazquez by Team Valor CEO Barry Irwin, owner of Animal Kingdom, and trainer Graham Motion after Albarado suffered facial fractures and cuts during a spill in the post parade of a race that Wednesday.

Velazquez, who was scheduled to ride champion Uncle Mo only to have the colt scratched from the Derby Friday, said he was thinking as much about his physically and emotionally wounded comrade as anything once he crossed the finish line.

"Out of respect for him, it was definitely a quiet moment for me," Velazquez said of his Derby win. "A lot of people said, 'How come you didn't show any emotions?' I did show emotion, I just didn't celebrate the way everybody else does because there was another jockey there who was named on the horse who didn't get to ride him.

"Robby was down, and to get kicked when you're on the floor, it's not a good feeling. It wasn't in my nature to celebrate like nothing happened."

As much as Velazquez wanted to show respect for his friend, he also wants to make it known how much his first Derby win did resonate with him.

"That is a relief I had off my shoulders I can tell you that," he said. "I'd been chasing that race for 12-13 years and, over the years, I've rode some decent horses I thought had a really good chance, and they either ran horribly or got hurt. It wasn't meant to be for me all those years, and it was meant to be this year."

Velazquez said he's enjoying coming to the Preakness for the first time aboard the only horse with a chance to sweep the Triple Crown.

But he refuses to dwell too much on the potential highs or lows.

"I'm excited about it, but I'm not going to not sleep," Velazquez said. "I have to ride all day before I get to (Animal Kingdom). I have to show up for the rest of the horses and do a good job to them, as well. It's not just one race."

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