Getty Images

Javier Castellano still eyeing elusive Kentucky Derby

Leave a comment

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.”

Irish War Cry is 5-2 favorite in $1M Haskell Invitational

Getty Images
Leave a comment

OCEANPORT, N.J. (AP) Irish War Cry, the runner up in the Belmont Stakes, is the 5-2 favorite in the $1 million Haskell Invitational for 3-year-olds.

The richest race of the season at Monmouth Park drew a field of seven for the 50th edition on Sunday.

With a victory, Irish War Cry would join Thanks To Tony (1980) as the only New Jersey-bred winners of the state’s biggest thoroughbred stakes.

The Garden State connection runs even deeper. The race is named for Amory Haskell, the first chairman and president of Monmouth Park, whose daughter Isabelle de Tomaso bred and owns Irish War Cry.

The morning-line choice breaks from the rail with Rajiv Maragh aboard for trainer Graham Motion.

Irish War Cry was a top contender heading into the Kentucky Derby after winning the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct. After chasing the early pacesetter, he faded to 10th.

Motion initially planned to give the horse time to regroup after the Derby and await the Haskell. The colt was training so well that Motion sent the horse to the 1+ mile Belmont.

It was a good decision. Irish War Cry led most of the way but was beaten two lengths by Tapwrit.

“At the end of the day, we are all very excited that we got to this point,” Motion said. “This was certainly our goal of the summer.”

Trainer Chad Brown sends out the second and third choices in the Haskell: the undefeated Timeline, 3-1, and Practical Joke, 4-1.

Timeline, winner of Monmouth’s Pegasus Stakes last month, is 4 for 4 coming into the biggest test of his career.

“He’s a horse that’s always shown a lot of natural ability,” Brown said. “I’ve had my eye on the Haskell for this horse for a long time. I felt this race would suit him.”

Javier Castellano will ride Timeline from post 3.

Practical Joke is alongside in post 4 with Joel Rosario in the saddle.

The full Haskell field, in post-position order with jockeys and odds: Irish War Cry, Maragh, 5-2; Battle of Midway, Flavien Prat, 5-1; Timeline, Castellano, 3-1; Practical Joke, Rosario, 4-1; McCraken, Brian Hernandez, Jr. 9-2; Hence, Paco Lopez, 12-1 and Girvin, Robby Albarado, 6-1.

The 1 1/8 miles Haskell is a Breeders’ Cup Challenge race. The winner earns a qualifying berth in the $6 million Classic on Nov. 4 at Del Mar.

Arrogate remains on course for Pacific Classic at Del Mar

Getty Images
Leave a comment

DEL MAR, Calif. (AP) Bob Baffert wasn’t beating himself up a day after Arrogate’s upset loss in the San Diego Handicap at Del Mar that snapped the seven-race winning streak of the world’s top-ranked horse.

The Hall of Fame trainer said Sunday that other than getting a lot of dirt in his eyes and mouth the 4-year-old colt emerged in good physical condition after finishing fourth, beaten by 15 \ lengths as the 1-20 favorite.

Baffert says that as long as Arrogate continues working out well and nothing comes up, the colt will run in the $1 million Pacific Classic on Aug. 19 at Del Mar. Baffert says Arrogate “will be ready next time.”

Arrogate was never better than fourth among the five-horse field during the race. Accelerate led all the way and won by 8 + lengths.