- Published: Friday, 10 January 2020 18:57
Urizar "Uri" Velazquez, who assists trainer Brandon McFarlane with his shedrow, has been selected the MTHA Backstretch Employee of the Year at Pimlico Race Course for 2019.
Velazquez, a 27-year-old native of Mexico, began working with Thoroughbreds for Mark Casse in Ocala, Fla., as a teenager and landed his first exercise-riding job with top consignor Eddie Woods in Ocala. He later worked as an exercise rider for Sagamore Farm and then trainer Dane Kobiskie in Maryland.
"My mom's brother worked for Mark Casse in Ocala, but when I moved here from Mexico, I went to work in the fields picking peanuts," Velazquez said. "I didn't like it. So my uncle found me a job cleaning water buckets with the yearlings and babies. That's how I got into working with horses."
Velazquez wanted to be a rider and actually began his lessons aboard a pony. After his full-time with job Woods, he moved on to Adena Springs Florida, and later worked in Illinois and Kentucky.
Velazquez began working toward a career as a jockey at Gulfstream Park before returning to Maryland, where he won his first race in August 2018 at Laurel Park aboard Free to Trump for trainer McFarlane. He won a few more races at the Maryland State Fair at Timonium before suffering an injury that has kept him from riding.
"I used to gallop the horse that gave me my first win," Velazquez said. "I knew the horse very well. That experience doesn't happen very often. I look forward to eventually coming back (to riding).
"Horses are my passion; it's a talent because not everyone has it, and the horses know that. They know my voice. They're not able to speak but they are able to describe their feelings. That makes me be there for them."
Velazquez, who hopes to eventually ride in races again, has a passion not only for horses but in assisting those on the backstretch in times of need and, being bilingual, he makes himself available as a translator.
"I help people in need—a lot of them don't speak English," he said. "I also take people for doctor visits and help out the MTHA when I can."