Having not grown up in a family rooted in thoroughbred racing, jockey John Velazquez said his love affair with the sport is one that developed along with his ability in the saddle.
On Monday, both Velazquez's adoration and aptitude for racing were on display when the two-time Eclipse Award winner was announced as one of the four honorees to gain induction into the National Museum of Racing's 2012 Hall of Fame class.
Velazquez joins Ghostzapper, the 2004 Horse of the Year, and trainers Roger Att field and Robert Wheeler in being elected to the Hall of Fame. All four were elected in the contemporary category by the 183 members of the voting panel and beat out fellow finalists Housebuster, Ashado and Xtra Heat — all champions — and jockeys Calvin Borel, Garrett Gomez, and Alex Solis.
Velazquez has won 4,803 races, including 733 stakes, and has earned more than $263 million. He won the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Jockey in 2004 and 2005 and led all North American riders in earnings during those years.
Never miss a local story.
"I'm very honored and very humbled," said Velazquez, who won his first Kentucky Derby last May when he guided Team Valor's Animal Kingdom to victory. "It's incredible because... none of my family is in racing so it was very new to me. In the 22 years I've been riding, it's grown in me and I'm very proud to be recognized for the things that have happened in my career."
Velazquez, who has been riding first call for Eclipse Award winning trainer Todd Pletcher for over a decade, has nine Breeders' Cup wins and posted 50 Grade I triumphs from 2006 through 2011. In addition to his Derby triumph last season, Velazquez also guided the champion filly Rags to Riches to her historic victory over eventual two-time Horse of the Year Curlin in the 2007 Belmont Stakes.
Stronach Stables' Ghostzapper had a brief but brilliant career, winning 9 of 11 career starts while earning $3,446,120. The son of Awesome Again was named Horse of the Year and champion older male in 2004 when he capped off a 4-for-4 campaign with his victory in the Breeders' Cup Classic, covering the 1¼-mile distance in a stakes record time of 1:59.02.
Trained by the late Bobby Frankel and plagued by foot problems throughout his career, Ghostzapper also won the Woodward Stakes, Tom Fool Handicap, and Iselin Handicap in 2004 and closed out his career with a victory in the Metropolitan Handicap at age five.
Attfield has saddled the winner of 1,731 races, including 369 stakes, and has purse earnings of more than $88 million. He has won the Sovereign Award for outstanding Canadian trainer a record eight times and trained three Canadian Triple Crown winners (Izvestia, With Approval, and Peteski).
Wheeler, whose career spanned from 1938 through 1992, won 1,336 races and trained for prominent owners such as C.V. Whitney, J. Rukin Jelks, Greentree Stable, and Nelson Bunker Hunt. He conditioned 56 stakes-winning horses, including 1982 Champion Older Female Track Robbery.