A recent party at the homestead of Oscar Quiroz and Tiffany Leggett just off Greenway Road in Phoenix celebrated a couple of events, the 25th birthday of jockey Denny Velazquez, and his departure as well….an abbreviated departure but a departure nonetheless.

Velazquez, who is having a bang-up meet at Turf Paradise, his best ever, has been rewarded for his efforts at the Arizona track with a lucrative contract by North American Thoroughbreds to ride the upcoming meet at Hastings Racecourse in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Velazquez has enjoyed the previous several meets in Shakopee but couldn’t pass up a golden opportunity, emphasis on the golden.

So, Senor Quiroz, who’ll return with the gate crew at Canterbury Park this season, threw a small party of recognition for Velazquez and his companion, Lexi Morrison of Prior Lake who previously worked in the MRC licensing office in Shakopee.

There were several other attendees who celebrated with Velazquez, regarded as the comedic sparkplug in the jocks’ room at Turf Paradise.

“It would be very boring in there without Denny. He livens things up,” said Quiroz. “It would be very boring indeed.”

Velazquez has done his share to spice up the surroundings at Canterbury Park as well.

Ms. Leggett had already moved on to the meet at Keeneland Race Course in Kentucky before her return to Canterbury for its upcoming meet. In her absence, Quiroz, known to racetrack folks as simply the “Big 0,” put on a display of his culinary skills for the party, attended by Canterbury/Turf Paradise riders Patrick Canchari and Chad Lindsey, in addition to valets and gate crew members Brian Brock, Cole Buxbaum and a new member of the gate crew in Phoenix and for the upcoming meet in Shakopee, Joe Johnson of St. Louis.

Velazquez was in second place in the rider standings with 94 wins as of Monday, 99 behind the leader, Franciso Arrieta, who introduced himself to Canterbury fans last summer and is headed to Shakopee once again.

Canterbury Hall of Fame rider Scott Stevens was in third place with 86 wins, followed by Glenn Corbett with 70, Lindsey with 43 and Israel Hernandez with 42.

A late arrival to the recent party was Isaiah Ortiz, a PBA and PRCA bull rider who was considering joining his buddies on the gate crew in Minnesota this year but chose instead to remain in Arizona for some bull-riding opportunities. Isaiah is the grandson of Manny Ortiz, a long-time trainer in Phoenix.

Brody, a 1 ½ year old French Bulldog who belongs to the Big O and Leggett, the horsemen’s bookkeeper in Shakopee, could be found most days napping beneath her desk last summer. He spent much of the recent party napping too after some long, intense games of “chase me until I can’t run anymore” with Oakland, a six-month old pitbull owned by the party honorees, Velazquez and Morrison.

BY JIM WELLS

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