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 third of seven installments, with the questions coming from turf writer Bob Fortus.
Bob Fortus: Flintshire, who won the Bowling Green last Saturday, had to be you highlight for last week, wouldn’t you say?
Javier Castellano: “Yeah. Tremendous. I never rode horses like that. So powerful. A strong kick. And I think he’s one of the best horses in the world. He hooked up with the best horses in Dubai, Hong Kong, Japan. In France in the Arc, second twice. He’s one of the best horses. It’s fun to ride, especially on the grass. You can ride with all the patience in the world. And when it’s time to go, you ask him, and he goes for it. That’s one of the best horses I ever rode in my life.”
The other jockeys were trying to keep you boxed in. Like you said the other day, that really wasn’t a concern.
“It wasn’t a concern at all. I like to ride the way I rode. People, they don’t want to be … between horses. They’re afraid to get blocked. But that’s European style. Since he was a baby, they teach the horses to run that way. And nobody wants the pace in front, because they don’t believe about pace over there in Europe. They believe in how you finish. They want to be blocked. They want to put (a horse) behind horses. And they want to find the last kick. And my concern was, with only four horses, he’s going to be in the clear all the way, and he’s going to lose the kick. And that’s why I would like to be covered up. Because it’s a mile and three eighths, a long distance. I want to be blocked, and when it’s time to go, I knew, when I asked him, he’s going to go for it. … I didn’t panic. I just rode with a lot of patience, a lot of confidence in myself.”
It looked like in the final strides, you were pretty much eased up. You were looking around to make there was nobody there, but it almost looked like you where thinking already of the Sword Dancer, like, let’s keep this horse from doing any more than he has to do to win this race.
“Absolutely. I agree. Get it done, this race first. Move forward. I don’t want to squeeze the lemon. I don’t want to overdo it, and then it’s going to be too much for the Sword Dancer. I want to save something in the tank. He’s a nice horse, but at the same time, I want to make sure. I look around. I see the (other horses). If they come back again, I’ll know what to do. I’m a professional. Do the right thing. Move forward with the horse.”
What do you know about the horse you’re riding Friday in the Hall of Fame, Strike Midnight? You haven’t been on him.
“No. I’ve never been there. I’ve never ridden the horse. I just looked at the Form, and I watched a couple races. He looked like a straight-forward horse. It looked like a horse that’s developing. … In a stakes race (the Manila), he finished second. I think he’s going to move forward tomorrow, and we’ll see how he comes out of the race.
How much time do you devote to videos, especially before riding a horse you’ve never been on?
“You know, you put them on a computer, and just watch. See how he breaks out of the gate, how the other jockey rode him last time, how he rated the horse. I can see what I can do to make him better. What can I do to move forward? Can I do something different? I don’t want to repeat the same kind of race the other jockey did. Just try to do the right thing with the horse. Find the best way to get a result.”
In the Test on Saturday, you’re riding Kareena for Kiaran McLaughlin. You haven’t been on her, either. So what have you seen from the videos of her races?
“She’s a fast horse. Of course, in the Test, there’s going to be a lot of speed. The way she breaks out of the gate and gets position for herself will be important. Like the horse in the Hall of Fame, she’s developing. She broke her maiden. Now she won a stakes race (the Jersey Girl) very impressive the last time. I think I picked a horse at the right time in the right place. Hopefully, I have a result. Kiaran is doing real well with all his horses in Saratoga. Hopefully I’ve chosen right.”
Another horse that caught my eye – this isn’t a stakes race – but on Saturday, there’s a maiden race for 2-year-olds, and you’re riding a horse named Mears for Tom Albertrani. This race, like a lot of the maiden races at Saratoga, has several first-time starters, including this horse. And you drew the rail. How tricky is that situation with a first-time starter? Is that a concern? Do you have to plan a little more carefully?
“You have to be careful. I never worked the horse. I basically have no idea what’s going on with the horse. I’m going to know a little bit when I speak with the trainer. He’ll tell me a little bit about the horse. Street Cry is the sire. And we all know they like to go long, and turf. And hopefully, he can break and put me in a good spot in the race. The most important thing, you need to break good and get a good spot, because there are not many 2-year-olds – they don’t like dirt in their face the first time. And when the horses get dirt in the face, they panic, and they stop running. So hopefully, he can break good from the inside post. If he doesn’t break good out of the gate, you’re in trouble, because … it’s hard to close. You don’t see too many horses come from way back and make up ground in (2-year-old) races.
The other thing I want to ask you about is your Travers mount. I know you don’t have one yet, but you have a couple of possibilities. Last weekend, you rode Gift Box in the Curlin and Destin in the Jim Dandy. You might have some other possibilities, too, How much input will you have in picking a Travers mount and how much input will come from your agent?
“I don’t know. It’s a roller-coaster business. You never know until the last minute. The horse I rode (Destin), I had high expectations. I think he ran good. He didn’t get it done in the Jim Dandy, but he ran good. Maybe that race will have him move forward in the Travers. The other horse, Gift Box, he finished second. He ran good, too. I don’t know yet. We’ll see how it develops. … I still haven’t made a commitment with anybody yet.”
How much back and forth is there between you and your agent when these decisions happen?
“It all depends. We’re going to wait as long as we can. But when the time comes, you have to make a decision. The owners and the trainer, they want a commitment. They want to push you to have a commitment. I want to satisfy everyone. You want to keep your customers satisfied and keep them happy. But sometimes you have to make a decision, and you don’t want to hurt any feelings. But that’s this kind of business. That’s the way it goes.”