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Javier Castellano still eyeing elusive Kentucky Derby

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. — Javier Castellano is arguably the best jockey in racing right now.

Except, that is, at the Kentucky Derby.

It is a baffling fact: The top rider in the game – he’s won the Eclipse Award as the sport’s best in each of the last four years – has the worst record of any jockey ever to ride in the Kentucky Derby. And even with all his accomplishments, when the Run for the Roses draws near the most glaring omission from his resume starts gnawing at him.

This is the one he wants, more than anything else.

“To win this race, it would mean a lot,” Castellano said. He paused for a moment, looked up and quietly continued his thought: “A lot,” he said again.

Castellano has ridden in the Kentucky Derby 10 times. He’s 0 for 10 in those starts. Not just 0 for 10, mind you, but he’s never finished second, never even finished third. Only Rafael Bejarano has such a record with at least 10 Derby appearances, and every jockey with 11 or more Derby mounts has crossed the line first, second or third at least once.

So history says 2017 has to be Castellano’s time. He’ll be aboard Gunnevera in this year’s Derby on May 6.

“He told me that he wanted to ride this horse,” said Gunnevera trainer Antonio Sano, who like Castellano is a native of Venezuela. “He called me and said that. That meant very much.”

Sano believes the breakthrough is coming.

“I think he’s the best,” Sano said.

The numbers certainly suggest that Sano might be right.

Besides the four straight Eclipse Awards – something only Jerry Bailey has done among jockeys – Castellano is a finalist this year for enshrinement in racing’s Hall of Fame, with the announcement of the new induction class coming on Monday. His mounts have collected over $275 million in earnings, a total only four other jockeys have reached. He’s won nearly 5,000 races, seven of them at the Breeders’ Cup.

It’s not like he can’t win the big one.

He just hasn’t won this big one – yet.

“This is my target,” Castellano said. “It would be more than a dream come true. It’s the one thing as a jockey that you want, to get to that level. This is the one.”

Castellano was aboard the favored Bellamy Road in 2005, but finished seventh. Of his other nine starters, only two have gone off at odds less than 10-1. The closest he came to the win was 2013, when Normandy Invasion had the lead in the stretch – on a soaking wet track – before finishing fourth.

It’s not just the Triple Crown races that haven’t brought Castellano great luck. Besides his Derby troubles, he’s 0 for 10 in the Belmont and 1 for 5 in the Preakness. Add them up and Castellano is 1 for 25 in those classics, with no wins in his last 21 starts.

None of that is holding him back, and trainers still clamor for his services. He’s No. 3 in earnings so far this year, despite paring his schedule down just a bit, and still hits the board – racing parlance for finishing in the top three – in more than half of his starts.

“I’ve had so much success with Javier, and we have great chemistry together,” reigning Eclipse Award trainer winner Chad Brown said. “He studies the races very well. And if he’s ridden a horse before, he learns a lot from it and applies it to the next race.”

That’s why Gunnevera might be a lively pick on Derby day.

Castellano has been aboard him four times, with two wins, a second-place finish and most recently a third-place showing in the Florida Derby when Gunnevera made a huge run from the back of the field. And every time, Castellano has come away a little more convinced that he’s going to Churchill Downs with a real shot.

“Absolutely, this is what I’ve been looking for,” Castellano said. “Maybe things will go well. Maybe this is the year.”

Jockey dies after injury at northeastern Oklahoma racetrack

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CLAREMORE, Okla. (AP) Officials say a jockey who was injured during a race at a northeastern Oklahoma track has died.

The Cherokee Nation says jockey Mario Chavez was injured Saturday at Will Rogers Downs after his horse crashed into the inside rail, throwing him to the ground. Gunnar Enlow, whose family owns the farm where the 42-year-old Chavez worked, says Chavez was pronounced dead at the hospital on Sunday.

Chavez bred and raced horses for 26 years in northeastern Oklahoma. He won the Tulsa State Fair stakes in July.

The Cherokee Nation owns and operates the racetrack in Claremore, about 25 miles (40 kilometers) northeast of Tulsa.

Dettori wins record fifth Arc as Enable caps brilliant season

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CHANTILLY, France — Frankie Dettori won an unprecedented fifth Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe on Sunday as Enable capped a memorable season.

Enable, the 10-11 favorite, led for most of Europe’s richest horse race to claim her fifth consecutive victory after wins in the Epsom Oaks, the Irish Oaks, the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes and the Yorkshire Oaks.

The John Gosden-trained filly won by 2 1/2 lengths over Cloth Of Stars, ridden by jockey Mickael Barzalona and trained by Andre Fabre.

The Michael Stoute-trained Ulysses, ridden by Jim Crowley, was another length and a quarter back in third.

“I said to John last week she is the best she has ever been. To keep this filly at 100 percent all year is fantastic,” Dettori said. “I had position `A’, I knew I had no weight and she stays, so I kicked and she gave me four lengths and the race was over.

“She’s amazing and is an absolute freak. I love her. John is a genius.”

It was Dettori and Gosden’s second Arc win in three years, after the popular Italian won on Golden Horn.

Dettori’s victory comes 22 years after his first triumph in the 1 +-mile race.

The 3-year-old Enable made a fast start from stall two and Dettori always had her well positioned behind Aidan O’Brien’s pair of Idaho and Order Of St George, before pulling away inside the final two furlongs

“She showed an impressive turn of foot and acceleration to kill the field. She has amazing ability,” Gosden said. “Frankie got her in a great position. He’s pretty good for an old jock!”

The race will return to its usual home at Longchamp in 2018 after a two-year absence due to renovations, and Gosden hopes Enable will be there.

“She has only raced for 10 months of her life. She had one little run last November, but really she’s only had one season of racing,” Gosden said. “There would be every reason to keep her in training next year as a 4-year-old, particularly with the new Longchamp opening.

“That would be exciting – to try to win the Arc on two different tracks.”