By Jennie Rees for JockeyTalk360
It took a huge year for a jockey to overcome a Triple Crown winner as the Eclipse Award champion rider. But Javier Castellano did just that to be voted North America’s outstanding jockey for the third straight year.
Castellano rode the winners of the Travers (Keen Ice), Metropolitan Handicap and Whitney (Honor Code), Alabama (Embellish the Lace) and Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile and Woodward (Liam’s Map) and Breeders’ Cup Distaff (Stopchargingmaria). And it took that type of season, riding more top-flight horses in the nation’s most prestigious races than anyone, to get the votes to out finish Victor Espinoza’s Triple Crown and Breeders’ Cup Classic victories aboard American Pharoah.
The jockey combined quality and quantity, with 17 Grade I victories, including six at Saratoga. Overall he had 344 victories (a 23 percent win rate and 55 percent in the top three) and purse earnings of $28,120,767, both leading North America and breaking his own record in earnings. He also led the continent with 70 stakes victories, including 46 graded.
Castellano said his motivation is to win each race he rides, not the awards that might come from that. But he acknowledged that once the season was over, he did very much want to win the Eclipse again.
Among the biggest applause came when Castellano gave a shout-out to all the unsung heroes behind the scenes of any successful horse. He also praised American Pharoah and the Triple Crown winner’s entire camp.
Here’s what Castellano said in accepting the Eclipse Award Jan. 16 at Gulfstream Park:
“First of all, I would like to say to thank God for this award — such a great honor. And once again, I really appreciate this award. I was thinking about it and it kind of made me a little nervous. I had an interview earlier and they said ‘Are you nervous?’ Yes, to be honest with you. I ride the horse in the Breeders’ Cup all for me to win that race and not to be here. Now, I can’t wait for the result.’
“I want to first thank everyone who voted for me with the NTRA, Daily Racing Form, National Turf Writers and Broadcasters. This has been a remarkable year not only for myself but also for racing. American Pharoah and his team have made it very exciting, and it was amazing to see a Triple Crown winner. Congratulations to Victor Espinoza and the entire team for having such a phenomenal year, as well as to all the other nominees this evening. Thank you to everyone who has supported me this year and in years past. Thank you to the trainers and owners for allowing me to ride their horses. With your support, I’m excited to see what the future holds.
“I don’t want to forget the assistant trainer, the groom and everyone behind this. I want to give thanks and a lot of credit to my agent, Matt Muzikar. It was a fantastic year; I couldn’t have done it without your help. I want to thank my family for your support. You all mean so much to me and I couldn’t have done it without you guys, especial my mom. She doesn’t speak English and I just want to say, thank you Mama and ‘gracias mama por estar esta noche conmigo. Te quiero mucho, gracias por el support.’
“Thank you everyone. God bless you all and God bless America.”
For those who don’t speak Spanish, Castellano told his mother, “Thank you Mama for being with me tonight. I love you a lot. Thank you for your support.”
And thanks to the NTRA’s Jose Acevedo for the translation assist.