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 fourth of seven installments, with the questions coming from turf writer Bob Fortus.
Bob Fortus: On Thursday, you won going a mile and three-quarters (on Turco Brave in the Birdstone). That’s an unusual distance in U.S. racing. Is it particularly challenging for the jockey to ride that distance?
Javier Castellano: “We’re not used to that kind of racing … a very long distance. I’m very fortunate to be in good shape. To ride those kind of horses, because some horses, they pull all the way in the race, you get tired just to pull with the horse. And by the time you’ve got to ride, your arms and your legs are numb. You don’t feel (them). And you have to ride hard to try to win the race.
“It’s kind of difficult to win those kind of races. It’s really hard. I’m very lucky and fortunate to be in good shape and try to perform the best way to win the race. Especially the horse, he was pulling all the way and somebody (Desvelo), he chased me all the way around. So I can’t just gallop along. He pulled all the way. It’s most difficult to ride a horse like that.”
In Europe there are a lot more distance races than there are here, so it’s not something that you do a lot.
“Usually, in Europe, the horses they get used to it. At the beginning they go slow and just gallop along. They don’t pull. They’re not really aggressive, because that’s the way they teach it, just to settle, be relaxed in the first part and then finish. Those horses (in the United States), they’re not used to it. They just want to run. They show up in the gate, they want to go forward and go as fast as they can. And that’s kind of difficult for us in that kind of race.”
It’s about halfway through the meet. Maybe you could do a little scouting report on some of the jockeys. You’re in the top five in the standings. Maybe talk a little bit about the guys you compete against. What makes them so tough? Start with Irad Ortiz Jr., who’s having another good meet after the Belmont meet.
“We’ll, he’s very competitive. And there’s a lot of top riders on the grounds right now, and they’re doing very well, and it’s competitive. John Velazquez, he’s one of the oldest guys here, and he’s in good shape, and he’s riding good horses. The key is about getting to ride the best horse on the grounds. It takes luck to ride the best horse to be competitive. If you don’t ride fast horses, you can’t be competitive. One thing about the jockey, they ride. They’re not running. The key is for the jockey to try to do the homework and try to connect with the best connections and try to find the best horse on the grounds. If you have somebody supports you, like Todd Pletcher or Chad Brown or those stables, or Shug McGaughey, they have a lot of horses and good horses. If you connect with the right people, you’re going to do well.
“It’s competitive. There’re good riders everywhere. If you talk about the jockeys, what about John Velazquez? He’s one of the older jockeys, but he never gives up. He’s always consistent. That’s why I give him so much credit. He didn’t just come from nowhere. In this game, you need to be consistent. You need to be steady and you need to be disciplined to be who you are. And Joel Rosario and John Velazquez and myself, Jose Lezcano, he’s starting to win some races. I mean it’s all competitive. Irad Ortiz, he opened up a little from us, but he rides for Chad Brown, and Chad Brown, he (runs) the best horses on the grounds so far.”
And Irad’s brother (Jose Ortiz) is a very good rider as well.
“He is. He’s a good rider. It’s competitive. A good, talented kid. It’s everywhere. It’s not just young guys, old guys, middle guys. They’re all good. That’s what we are. We are the major leagues. And one day, it’s going to be a good day for me. One day, it’s going to be a good day for them.”
What about your mounts in the graded stakes on Saturday (2-year-old filly Nono Mella in the Adirondack and 4-year-old colt A Lot in the Fourstardave)?
“I don’t know much about those horses. I never rode those horses before. It’s the first time. The filly comes from Monmouth, and I don’t know much about it, and I just need to hopefully have a good trip and go from there. Watch a replay, see how she runs. They’re tough races, but it doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed. You have to perform. You have to be lucky. A lot of things can change. The Fourstardave (scheduled for a mile on the inner turf), it could rain. Everything could change. The track could be changed (to dirt), sloppy, and maybe my horse likes it, and we go from there.”
The Fourstardave is scheduled for the inner turf course. Does the way you ride the grass, does is change drastically from one course to another at Saratoga?
“Yeah of course. You have to ride with a lot of patience (on the inner) and save some ground, because there are some really tight corners, and the course is very tight and narrow.”
Your mount in the Fourstardave, you have an inside draw (No. 3), so if it stays on the grass, the draw could help you do that.
“Absolutely. It’s going to help a lot. I think my horse’s best races have been short distances. Now he’s stretching out to two turns. And hopefully, he’ll be close enough, save some ground and hopefully find a good kick.”