John Paschall

John Velazquez rides 1,000th winner at Saratoga

147th Kentucky Derby
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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. — John Velazquez, already the leading career rider at Saratoga, had his 1,000th winner at the historic track.

The 50-year-old Hall of Fame jockey won the eighth race by a neck aboard Precursory, who paid $14 to win. The filly is trained by fellow Hall of Famer Bill Mott.

“It’s a special number, no matter what,” said Velazquez, who first came to Saratoga from his native Puerto Rico at age 18.

Back then, Velazquez traveled with Hall of Fame jockey Angel Cordero Jr. on a flight upstate.

“On the ride here he told me everything about Saratoga and how special it is,” Velazquez said. “The first year I won maybe three races, the second year maybe two races. I was furious, this was not a special place for me. In 1992, I was almost going back home but with the help of a new agent, it got me started again and it went on the right way with steady business.”

Some of Velazquez’s biggest career moments have occurred at Saratoga.

His 64 victories at the 2004 summer meet was a record at the time. On Sept. 9, 2001, he won six races in one day to set a record. On July 27, 2013, he won his 694th race to become the track’s winningest jockey.

Mott recalled that Velazquez clinched the first of his five Saratoga riding titles in 1998 on a horse he trained called Clever Actor on the last day of the meet.

“When they come down to a photo finish, if you’re betting, you might want to put your money on him,” Mott said. “He’s been very tough when it comes down to the wire.”

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Serena Williams pulls out of U.S. Open, citing torn hamstring

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Serena Williams added herself to the list of big-name withdrawals from the U.S. Open, pulling out of the year’s last Grand Slam tournament because of a torn hamstring.

Williams hasn’t competed since injuring her right leg in the first set of her first-round match at Wimbledon in late June.

The American, who turns 40 next month, announced her decision to sit out the U.S. Open via a social media post. She joins Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in sitting out the competition in Flushing Meadows, where play begins next Monday, raising questions about what the future of tennis might look like without them. The draw for the tournament is Thursday.

This will be the first major tournament since 1997 without any of Williams, Federer or Nadal in the singles brackets. Williams made her Grand Slam debut at the 1998 Australian Open; Federer made his the following year; Nadal in 2003.

Williams has won 23 Grand Slam singles titles, a record in the professional era. Only one player in tennis history owns more, Margaret Court with 24.

Federer, Nadal and Novak Djokovic share the men’s record of 20.

“After careful consideration and following the advice of my doctors and medical team, I have decided to withdraw from the US Open to allow my body to heal completely from a torn hamstring,” Williams wrote in Wednesday’s post.

Her note ended with: “I’ll see you soon.”

Williams’ coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, also put up a post on social media, saying, “we’ve done everything we could” and adding: “It is heartbreaking, but this is the only possible decision.”

Williams has won six singles championships at the U.S. Open, most recently in 2014. In her five appearances at the hard-court tournament in New York since then, she has made it to the final twice – losing to Naomi Osaka in 2018 and Bianca Andreescu in 2019 – and the semifinals three other times, including last year.

Her best-in-the-game serve and powerful groundstrokes have allowed Williams to remain among the title contenders at the biggest tournaments, especially on hard courts and grass.

This season, she was a semifinalist at the Australian Open in February, before losing to eventual champion Osaka there. At the French Open, played on red clay, Williams lost in the fourth round to Elena Rybakina.

At Wimbledon, Williams was serving while leading 3-1 in her opening match when her left shoe seemed to lose its traction while she was hitting a forehand and her right leg flexed awkwardly.

She tried to continue but eventually needed to stop playing, only the second mid-match retirement of her Grand Slam career and first since 1998.