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 second of seven installments, with the questions coming from turf writer Bob Fortus.
Bob Fortus: How would you describe your meet so far? Are you happy with the way things are going?
Javier Castellano: “It’s early, but so far so good. Opening day, a couple seconds. The horses ran pretty good. And the second day, Saturday, I had a great day. I won four races. Nice and smooth, straight-forward. And the next couple days, I didn’t win a race. But so far, so good. At this point, we start developing. Everybody has high expectations for the meet, and I don’t blame them. We have to do that. You have to start really quick. I think every day is unfolding the right way with the horses. I’m hoping this week coming up is going to be a great week.”
You’re riding several good horses on Saturday. Flintshire, his comeback race in the Manhattan was amazing. Did that surprise you the way he ran off such a layoff and how do you think he’s going into this race, the Bowling Green?
“It didn’t surprise me at all. He’s a great horse. He’s hooked up with the best horses in the country, and I think he’s one of the best horses in the country on the turf, and I think I’m very fortunate and blessed to ride those kind of horses.”
What do you expect from him on Saturday?
“High expectations. I love that horse and the way he’s doing right now. He’s working so good. I’m looking for big times Saturday in that race. I’m hoping I can knock it down, win the race, and move forward for the next race.”
Destin, who will be running in the Jim Dandy, it had to be heartbreaking in the Belmont because he didn’t win. But he ran such a wonderful race. Now he’s cutting back. Is that tricky cutting back to a mile and an eighth off the Belmont?
“I don’t think so. It’s very straight-forward. He’s a nice, easy horse to ride, and I don’t think it’s going to hurt. It’s going to help a lot. The whole question you have with those horses going a mile and a half is the long distance. It’s a very rare race. You don’t see too many races a mile and a half. I’m very satisfied with the way he did it. Like you say, it was heartbreaking to get beat, but that’s horse racing. He ran the race, he came back good, and now we are looking for the (Jim Dandy).”
Have you been working him?
“Yes I did. I worked him last week. He worked really good. I like the way he did it. He’s a very professional horse.”
There’s a horse that caught my eye. You’re riding Penjade, a filly from France, in an allowance race Friday for trainer Chad Brown on the turf. You’ve probably done that a lot, riding a former Euro in a U.S. debut. Is that a tricky thing to do. Are there certain things you look for when you go out, because the racing’s so different here?
“Sometimes you have the opportunity to work the horse. This horse, I didn’t have a chance to work. It all depends on how you handicap the race. Most of the horses (from Europe), they don’t break very good the first time they come to this country, because they teach over there to break slow and finish. Here, it’s a different style. Hopefully, she’ll break good and put me in a good spot in the race, a better position to move forward. … It’s very tricky. The majority of horses (from Europe), they don’t break. … They’re really cool horses. After that, they usually put themselves after that in a good spot. It’s good to ride those kind of horses. You get to ride European-style. You have to tuck them in, get them to save some ground, cover them up, cover up. Then, turning for home, you have to find some room when the horses start running. It’s not easy to ride those European horses.”
Gift Box is the other horse I wanted to ask you about. He’s running coming in the Curlin and winning an allowance race (at Belmont) when he ran very well. Is he a top-tier 3-year-old in your mind with Travers capability?
“He’s a top horse. Unfortunately, they had to give him some time. But every time he’s performed, he’s performed so well. I think he’s a late-developing 3-year-old. Now is the best moment of his career. I think he has to take advantage and hopefully he’ll start building and building all the way to the top.”
One more thing, are there any babies you’ve been getting on that you’re high on? Are you going to let the word out now, or do we have to wait until we see them?
“I’ve been working a lot of 2-year-olds, but I didn’t have a chance to say, “This is wow, this is special.” It’s early. It’s the first week. Hopefully, it’ll start developing more in a couple weeks.”
Obviously, the one your rode for Eddie Kenneally (Bitumen, who won the Sanford), could be any kind?
“I never got on him in the morning. The first time I rode him, he was very professional. He was behind horses. He got a lot of dirt in the face. He won nice and smooth. The way he finished, I think he’s be one of the top 2-year-olds in the country.”