LOUISVILLE, Ky. — John Velazquez won the Kentucky Derby by a broken nose.
An injury to Animal Kingdom’s regular rider, Robby Albarado, cleared the way for Velazquez to pick up the mount and once he took the reins on Saturday, he rode his good luck all the way to the winner’s circle.
Animal Kingdom, who’d never raced on dirt before, reacted to his new rider the way a champion should, charging down the middle of the stretch to win by 2 3/4 lengths.
Nehro was second and Mucho Macho Man was another neck back in third.
Dialed In went off as the 5-1 favorite, but finished eighth.
The victory is the first Derby win for trainer Graham Motion and provided redemption for Velazquez, who was set to ride Uncle Mo before the horse was scratched due to a lingering stomach problem.
Albarado broke his nose when he fell off a horse during a post parade at Churchill Downs earlier in the week, then got kicked in the face.
“It’s words that you can’t describe,” Velazquez said. “But I do really feel really bad for Robby. I hope he’s winning the Derby with me here. I know he got hurt so this is for both of us, buddy. I know you’re not on it, but I know you’re with me.”
Animal Kingdom went off as a 20-1 longshot in the lightly regarded field. He won the Spiral Stakes on the synthetic surface at Turfway Park on March 26, but had never before run on dirt.
He looked right at home under the twin spires.
Velazquez deftly kept Animal Kingdom out of trouble in the 19-horse field and the colt covered the 1 1/4-mile distance in 2:02.04.
Arkansas Derby winner Archarcharch, who started from the rail, was vanned off the track with a leg injury and was taken to the backside barns for an X-ray.