Jockey John Velazquez, set to ride undefeated Verrazano in the Kentucky Derby on Saturday, returned to the saddle in a race on Thursday for the first time since being injured in a spill at Aqueduct on April 7.
Velazquez and Armelda finished last of seven in the fifth race at Belmont Park.
He’s scheduled to ride two at Churchill Downs today — Dreaming of Julia in the Kentucky Oaks and Authenticity in the La Troienne.
Velazquez suffered a slightly broken rib and a chip in his right wrist in the Aqueduct spill.
He had been out of the saddle until Tuesday, when he galloped some horses in the morning.
Thursday morning, trainer Todd Pletcher said he wasn’t worried about whether Velazquez, his top rider for years, would be 100 percent for this big weekend.
“I have a tremendous amount of confidence in John Velazquez,” Pletcher said. “We’ve had a couple of conversations, he tells me he’s going to be ready to roll, and that’s good enough.”
“I feel very, very good,” Velazquez told the New York Racing Association after Thursday’s race. “I wish my horse had run better today, but I had no problem getting back into the swing of things. I don’t think the time off will affect me at all.”
Dreaming of Julia is the 3-1 favorite against a tough field in the Oaks off her spectacular 21 3⁄4-length win in the Gulfstream Park Oaks.
The field got a little bit less tough on Wednesday, when trainer Bill Mott said that Flashy Gray will scratch with a minor foot bruise.
Like the Derby, Pletcher has a loaded hand in the Oaks, with Dreaming of Julia, Unlimited Budget and Princess of Sylmar, a 20-1 long shot for owner Ed Stanco, a 1967 graduate of Linton High School.
Unlimited Budget is undefeated from four starts, most recently the Fair Grounds Oaks.
Another undefeated filly in the Kentucky Oaks is Close Hatches, who beat Princess of Sylmar by 3 1⁄4 lengths.
The field also includes Eclipse Award winner Beholder, who beat Dreaming of Julia in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies.
The buzz horse has been Midnight Lucky, though.
She’s raced just twice, winning both by a combined 15 1⁄4 lengths, and really jumped onto the Oaks radar off two visually impressive works on the Churchill main track.
RAIN IN FORECAST
As of 6 p.m. Thursday, the National Weather Service was calling for 50 percent chance of showers Friday night and 90 percent chance of showers on Saturday.
The service is expecting a quarter- to a half-inch of rain in Louisville on Saturday.
MORE DERBY WEEK
Funny Cide, the 2003 Derby winner, and Mine That Bird, the 2009 winner, paraded in the paddock for fans Thursday afternoon. . . .
Owner Rick Porter said he picked the name for Normandy Invasion because he was so inspired by a visit to Normandy, France, for a 1994 50th anniversary commemoration of the D-Day invasion.
Porter will be hosting four veterans of that campaign — Alan Reeves of San Diego, J.J. Witmeyer of New Orleans and Ray Woods and Bill Wilch of Ohio — at the Derby. . . .
Believe You Can makes her return to Churchill Downs today after winning the Oaks last year to give jockey Rosie Napravnik the first Grade I win of her career.
Believe You Can, winner of two stakes at Fair Grounds this year, is the 7-5 favorite in the La Troienne. . . .
Golden Ticket, who dead-heated with Alpha to win the Travers last summer, won for the second time in five 2013 starts on Thursday, an allowance at Churchill.
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