News Americas, New York, NY, Tues. Mar. 29, 2022: Latin American jockeys Joel Rosario and John Velazquez are on a collision course at the Kentucky Derby with the two men scheduled to ride the leading contenders for the crown. Both jockeys have previously won the event, with Velazquez notching the prestigious titles on three occasions, the last of which came in 2020. Rosario has endured an eight-race drought without the Kentucky Derby, last winning the meet in 2013 at the reins of Orb.
French jockeys have become prevalent in the race of late as Florent Geroux won the Derby last season on the back of Mandaloun after Medina Spirit was disqualified, while Flavien Prat was victorious in 2019 with Country House. Rosario has the best chance of success as he is scheduled to ride Epicenter, who is the leading contender in the horse racing betting tips to win the race with odds in the region of +800. However, Velazquez and his charge Messier should not be overlooked, especially since trainer Bob Baffert will have a point to prove after his disappointment with Medina Spirit in 2021.
Rosario has a stronger relationship with his potential charge and he is likely to be entrusted by Steven Asmussen to ride Epicenter to victory at the Churchill Downs. Epicenter began his season in December at the Gun Runner Stakes and put down a marker with Brian Joseph Hernandez Jr in the saddle to win the event by a dominant margin. Rosario took the reins for his first race with Epicenter in the Lecomte Stakes, but did not make a winning start as he and his charge were beaten on the line by Call Me Midnight.
A response came at the Risen Star Stakes where Asmussen’s charge was on point to win the event by two-and-a-quarter lengths ahead of the race favorite Smile Happy. The jockey from the Dominican Republic ensured that Epicenter had momentum to take into the Kentucky Derby by guiding him to his third victory in four races as he put in a brilliant performance at the Louisiana Derby. Expectations are high for Asmussen, Rosario and Epicenter ahead of the Derby, but he certainly has strong credentials as well as the man in the saddle.
Velazquez faces a challenge to match the partnership of Rosario and Epicenter when he rides Messier into action for Baffert. The Puerto Rican took to the saddle in Messier’s first race of the year when he returned to action at Santa Anita in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes. Messier was the overwhelming favorite for the contest, and put down a sensational display to defeat his nearest rival by 15 lengths. A similar outing at the Churchill Downs could result in a fourth Kentucky Derby victory for Velazquez.
Both Rosario and Velazquez have put the Caribbean on the map for the development of top-tier jockeys. The two men are standouts at the peak of American horse racing, and continue to excel in the elite races. They face a battle with each other and the rest of the field to wind up in the winners’ circle at the Churchill Downs in May, but both are well placed to make a run for the crown.