Each week, jockey Javier Castellano, who won the last three Eclipse Awards for being North America’s most outstanding jockey, is sharing a Saratoga Blog. This is the fifth of seven installments, with the questions coming from turf writer Bob Fortus.
Bob Fortus: You’ve had a good week. Things have really have been falling into place. That’s got to feel good.
Javier Castellano: “Yeah. Everything’s going in the right direction right now. The races. The horses are being put in good spots. Everything’s working good so far.”
Tell me about your ride on Monday on Jules N Rome (in the Saratoga Dew). You had the 10-hole. That just fell into place so nicely. Was that as easy as it looked? It looked like the idea was to try to save some ground, and that’s exactly what happened. It usually doesn’t happen that way.
“It worked out great. Perfect. Sometimes, you think of something, and it becomes something different. But it worked out great. My concern that day was the way-outside post. Ten horses, and I’m outside. I think it’s so difficult to save some ground. You have a couple things: You have to use your horse to get a good position, but you have to rush your horse. You have to use a lot to get a spot. If something happens, like your horse doesn’t break good out of the gate because you are the last horse loaded in the gate – and sometimes they miss the break – then you have to try Plan B. You have to take back and try to save some ground, and you lose a lot of ground. But it worked out so perfect.”
“She broke good out of the gate. I had to use a little bit to get covered up in the first turn behind two or three horses. Save ground as best you can, and then on the backside put her into gear, and then you are trying the last kick. In those situations, you have to play it by ear. You handicap the race, but you have to use the best judgment.”
The other day (Tuesday), you got to work Cathryn Sophia. It sounded like you were pretty excited about that work.
“I can’t wait to work that filly. I was so thrilled. It was amazing the way she did it. And you don’t see too many horses work that way. I think she’s one of the best fillies in the country, with all due respect to Songbird. But Cathryn Sophia, she’s doing better and better and better. I’m very excited the way she worked, and it was a really good solid work (six furlongs in 1:14.98 on the Oklahoma training track).”
“Usually, I don’t work on Tuesday, because it’s six days a week racing. I ride a lot of horses in the afternoon. I ride a lot of horses in the morning, too. And (I try) to get at least one day off to be relaxed and home. But when they told me, ‘You have to work Cathryn Sophia,’ I was so excited. I didn’t care about a day off. I’m willing to work. That’s what I am. That’s why I’m here. And I’m blessed to ride those kind of horses. I look forward to riding Cathryn Sophia, one of the best fillies in the country. And the way she did it, she was amazing.”
How many horses would you work on a typical morning? What’s your schedule like on a typical race day?
“It depends. It all depends on the horses. A couple days ago, we had so much rain, everything backed up. But it ranges from about three horses in the morning, sometimes, maybe four, when you have to work a horse on the grass. But it’s not about the quantity. It’s about the long, long day. Because you have a work a horse at 6 o’clock in the morning. Then one at at 8:30. Then you have one at 10 o’clock. You lose the whole morning right there.”
“Then you have to finish by 10:30, go the jockeys’ room. Prepare. Handicap the races for the day. And you’re not finished until almost 7 o’clock at night. This game is mental and physical. Those are two things you need to be. You have to be focused for the races.”
You’re not riding in the Alabama. You don’t have a mount against Songbird. I was wondering, when a great horse like that is running, what’s the jocks’ room like? Is there a little more attention to that race and that horse?
“It all depends. Everybody looks up when a big horse is running. I remember the Travers last year, when American Pharoah, was running, and I beat him with Keen Ice. … When you handicapped the race, he was the only speed in the race. I said, ‘How can I beat American Pharoah?’ It’s so hard to beat him. He won the Triple Crown. He won the Haskell galloping. Now he comes here to Saratoga. He’s going to gallop. There’s no speed in the race. And everything’s forming the right way for him. It’s going to be hard to beat him. … I beat the horse. That’s what I mean. You never know in this game. That’s what makes racing exciting, because you never know what’s going to happen in the race. A lot of things can go wrong, and there’s only one way they can go right. Jockeys, you have to handicap the race. See what happens if you stumble out of the gate. Something can happen. You never know. You have to be positive. You have to be smart handicapping the race, try to be competitive.”
Will you be watching Songbird with an idea that maybe down the line you’ll be riding against her and maybe look at a way you might be able to beat her? In other words, look at it as scouting for the future?
“Of course. You always watch the really good horses. How they perform. You want to see if there’s a way, how you can beat a horse. Because there has to be something that filly doesn’t like. You try to figure out how I can beat Songbird. And maybe you’re going to hook up one day, and maybe you can do it. That’s this game. That’s what makes it exciting. But I’ll be honest with you, she’s a really, really good filly. I give her all the credit in the world. She’s fast. And she’s really good. I don’t take away anything. She’s well-deserving. She’s a champion. But I’d like one day to hook up with Songbird and try to be competitive with her.”
Let me ask you one more thing. That 2-year-old you won on the other day, Gunnevera (in the Saratoga Special), what was your take on him?
“That horse came from Gulfstream Park. That’s funny, because I know the trainer (Antonia Sano). The trainer is from Venezuela. That’s where I’m from. And he’s a good trainer. … He won more than 3,000 races over there. He was one of the kings over there. He’s a really good trainer. He’s done really well at South Florida, at Gulfstream Park. And he told me: ‘I’ve got a nice horse to ride. I wish you could ride.’ I was supposed to ride for Todd (Pletcher) in that race, and something happened. He canceled at the last minute. (Sano) had given the call to somebody else. I called myself. I said, “Listen, Antonio, if you don’t mind, I’m open in the race, and I know you committed with the horse to somebody else, but I’m willing to ride the horse if you can.’ (He said), ‘Oh, I’ve got to call somebody. Let me see.’ … I really appreciate that, because when you give a commitment in this game, especially for graded races, you want to keep your word. You don’t want to change your mind. Thank God it worked out good. He gave me the horse to ride. And it worked out perfect. He’s a nice horse. A long-distance horses, like his father, Dialed In. He can run all day. It worked out perfect. All four horses went to (show) speed, and I just sat right behind the horses. And when I asked him, he took off. Very impressed.”