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‘Drive for Five’ Brings Castellano Back to Gulfstream Park

Dec 2, 2015
North America’s Leading Jockey Sets Sights on Fifth Straight Riding Championship

HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – Since coming to the United States in the summer of 1997, South Florida has been very good to Javier Castellano. It is where the native Venezuelan won his first race, his first graded stakes, and his first riding championship.
As Castellano’s star has risen, nowhere has it shined brighter than at Gulfstream Park. He returns for the 2015-16 Championship Meet having won an unprecedented four consecutive riding titles, and as the favorite to earn a third straight Eclipse Award as North America’s leading jockey.

“It would be awesome,” Castellano said. “I always try to keep going, to make new goals, and mentally that helps me be motivated to be one of the best jockeys in the country. It is another chapter in my life. I would like to put another goal under my belt. I’m looking forward to it, big time.”

The 85-day Championship Meet kicks off Saturday with the 17th running of the $1.1 million Claiming Crown and runs through April 3. The highlight of the meet is the 65th running of the $1 million Florida Derby (G1) April 2.

Castellano, who is scheduled to ride in all nine Claiming Crown races Saturday, had another outstanding winter at Gulfstream in 2014-15, leading all jockeys with 114 wins and more than $4.7 million in purse earnings. Sixteen of his victories came in stakes, 11 of them graded, including two of the meet’s three Grade 1 races: the Donn Handicap with Constitution and the Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap with Mshawish.

On Jan. 17, he accepted his second Eclipse Award in as many years inside Gulfstream’s Sport of Kings Theater. Eleven days later, he received the key to the city of Hallandale in a ceremony at City Hall, and on Feb. 8 rode his 4,000th career winner aboard Captain Stan.

From there, Castellano won Belmont Park’s spring-summer meet title, finished second at Saratoga Race Course while leading the way in purse earnings, and was second in purses and third in wins during Belmont’s fall meeting.

Castellano leads all North American jockeys in wins, having topped 300 for the fourth straight year, and money earned, breaking his own single-season record initially set at Gulfstream Park in December 2013. He is the runaway leader in both stakes wins (64) and graded stakes wins (45), 17 of them Grade 1, among them two Breeders’ Cup victories and a record fifth in the Travers, riding Keen Ice to an upset of Triple Crown champion American Pharoah.

“I have to give credit to my agent, Matt Muzikar. He handles the business so well,” Castellano said. “We always want to ride the best horse in the race, of course, but you don’t want to hurt any feelings. It’s like being a father and having kids. You don’t want to say this kid is better than another, because the bottom line is they’re all your kids. Same thing with the horses. I love the horses, and we don’t want to hurt any feelings because all the horses are competitive. Matt does a very good job with that and he deserves a lot of credit.”

Castellano is the first jockey in Gulfstream Park history to reach triple digits in wins, topped by his meet-record 132 in 2013-14. He owns 58 career graded stakes victories including his lone Florida Derby (G1) in 2014 with Constitution.

Other highlights for Castellano at Gulfstream include winning the Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap with Jambalaya in 2007; setting a world record for 1 ½ miles on turf when riding Twilight Eclipse to victory in the 2012 Pan American (G2); and guiding top female sprinter Sugar Swirl to a sweep of the First Lady, Hurricane Bertie and Shirley Jones handicaps in 2008.

“When everything is going good, things seem to come easier. You don’t ride with pressure. You can ride and rely on your talent and your skill,” he said. “The trainers make me feel more confident, giving me the opportunity to ride the horses and make any adjustments I need to in the race. It makes me a little more comfortable every time I go out there and perform. When everything’s going well in your life, it continues to build your confidence.”

Gulfstream will once again have a deep riding colony, including John Velazquez, Edgar Prado, Julien Leparoux, Paco Lopez, Luis Saez, Jose Lezcano, Irad Ortiz Jr., Joel Rosario, Joe Bravo, Edgard Zayas and Corey Lanerie.

“I know it’s not easy. You’re competing against the best jockeys in the country, and there are a lot of good local riders that have the business all year,” Castellano said. “To be competitive, you have to ride different levels of horses, all kinds of horses, to be number one. You have to come every day always ready, mentally and physically. I’m thankful to have so much support, especially the owners and trainers that give me the opportunity. South Florida has always been very good to me. I am very appreciative for that.”

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