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Jockey Jorge Ruiz Flying High Under the Radar

Mar 17, 2017
Abel Castellano Jr. Embarking on a New Career Path 
Pan American (G2) on the Radar for Da Big Hoss

HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – After guiding Star Mily to an 80-1 upset victory in a maiden claiming race last August, a jubilant Jorge Ruiz celebrated his first U.S. victory in the Gulfstream Park winner’s circle with an eye toward the 2016-2017 Championship Meet.

“I want to compete with the best jockeys in the country. I’m looking forward to riding in a race with John Velazquez and the others,” said Ruiz after breaking through with a victory on his sixth mount since arriving from Argentina.

Although a bystander might have been tempted to caution Ruiz to be careful what he wished for, the 28-year-old jockey has established himself as a serious under-the-radar threat while competing against the likes of Velazquez, Javier Castellano, Jose Ortiz, Joel Rosario and other prominent jockeys this winter.

Ruiz has ridden 19 winners at a 12-percent strike rate since Opening Day of the Championship Meet on Dec. 4, but more telling of his ability and will to win is the gaudy $18.55 average payoff following his trips to the Gulfstream winner’s circle.

“Everyone here has been great to me. I’m just trying to get better and better every day. I’m working hard to adapt to the racing here,” said Ruiz through an interpreter between races Wednesday. “I’m very happy here. All the riders have been good with me.”

Ruiz, who rode 923 winners in Argentina, visited Gulfstream Park during the 2015-2016 Championship Meet strictly as an observer before deciding to make the move to the U.S. in August. During Gulfstream’s Summer Meet, he rode four winners from 64 mounts. He made five visits to the winner’s circle from 83 mounts at the Gulfstream Park West meet before stepping up his game during the Championship Meet.

“The difference between racing in Argentina and here is the stretch in Argentina is much longer,” said Ruiz who rode back-to-back winners in Sunday’s first two races. “There, you just wait. Here you need to break from the gate and go to get position.”

Ruiz has received a huge boost from trainer Luis Duco, who has provided him with several winning mounts.

”He was a very good rider in Argentina. He was riding for one of the big stables down there. We talked once and I told him he should come to the United States and he would do okay riding here. The best thing about him is that he's been on really good horses, Group 1 horses, so he knows what a good horse is. That makes a big difference,” Duco said. “He is also very good with his timing, and when to move. He's going to be a really good rider here.”

Abel Castellano Jr. Embarking on a New Career Path

Abel Castellano Jr., who followed older brother Javier Castellano from Venezuela to ride in the U.S., was a visitor to Gulfstream Park Friday morning with an eye toward embarking on a new career path.

Castellano, who rode his first race in the U.S. at Gulfstream Park in 2000, came to Gulfstream Friday to take the test to obtain a training license. The 33-year-old former jockey, who made 1,849 trips to winner’s circles, hasn’t ridden since Dec. 6, 2015. He said he was involved in a racing accident and was diagnosed to have suffered a concussion. He decided to stop riding horses and start training them.

“I love horses. They are my life,” said Castellano, who experienced his greatest success on the Mid-Atlantic circuit. “They’re in my blood.”

Asked if he will ride his older brother, a Hall of Fame nominee, three-time Eclipse Award winner and  defending five-time Championship Meet titlist, Castellano offered a knowing smile.

“I guess I’ll have to talk to his agent,” he said.

Pan American (G2) on the Radar for Da Big Hoss

Millionaire Da Big Hoss, a winner of five stakes, including four in succession, during his 2016 campaign, took a step closer to his seasonal debut by working six furlongs on the dirt in 1:14.42 at Gulfstream Park Friday morning.

The 6-year-old, a former claimer who was plucked out of a mile turf race for $50,000 in June of 2015 by trainer Mike Maker, is under consideration for the $200,000 Pan American (G2), a 1 1/2-mile turf race which will be run on the Florida Derby Day undercard, April 1.

“Possibly he will run in the Pan American, but I would like to get another work into him next week before deciding,” Maker said. “He’s doing super and galloped out a mile today, strongly, in about a 1:45. He’s definitely close to running.”

Da Big Hoss, an earner of more than $1.5 million, hasn’t raced since finishing 11th in November’s Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1).

Since claiming the Kentucky-bred for Skychai Racing, Maker has developed the horse into a very dependable marathoner, particularly when big money is on the line. Da Big Hoss won four graded stakes at four different tracks in 2016: Sam Houston’s John B. Connally Turf Cup (G3); Keeneland’s Dixiana Elkhorn (G2); Arlington’s American St. Leger (G3); and Kentucky Downs’ Kentucky Turf Cup. He also won Belmont Park’s Gold Cup Invitational. 

Da Big Hoss’ pedigree, which prominently features two Belmont Stakes winners – his sire is Lemon Drop Kid and his dam’s sire is Touch Gold – was a draw to Maker when he made the astute claim. While the horse has been a dream on the track, he can be cantankerous around the barn.

“That pedigree looked like longer distances would be his cup of tea,” Maker commented. “He’s been very reliable for us. As he has gotten older, he’s still his same grouchy self around the barn. It’s really funny – if he likes you, he likes you, but if he doesn’t, he really doesn’t. Thankfully, he likes me.”

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