Jockey Javier Castellano will be one of three riders inducted to the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame on Friday morning, bolstering an impressive resume for the 39-year-old native of Venezuela.
Castellano has won the Eclipse Award in each of the past four years, starting in 2013, and has recorded more than 4,664 wins, ranking fifth all time in purse earnings with more than $276 million. The veteran rider has won 10 riding titles on the New York Racing Association circuit, joined by five at Gulfstream and two at Keeneland.
"It's very exciting," Castellano said. "I've been looking forward to it for so many years. I've been riding for 20 years, to get to that moment, it's really special for me and my family. I'll try to enjoy the moment. It's great because in so many sports, you see a lot of people retire first - even [in] harness racing - then go into the Hall of Fame. At least I've been able to enjoy riding, [continue] to do well, win some races and enjoy my moment to be inducted as a Hall of Fame rider.
"When I started in my country, I rode a couple of months, [then] I came here [U.S.] in 1997 and started riding at Calder when I was an apprentice. Basically, that's where I started my career. They gave me my apprenticeship, and then after a few years, I decided to come to New York in 2001. I've been here since, coming to Saratoga and everything.
"Through those 17 years, I saw a lot of jockeys go to the Hall of Fame. I saw Jose Santos, Earlie Fires, Alex Solis, Calvin Borel, John Velazquez and Ramon Dominguez of course, last year, and I went to those ceremonies and I thought hopefully one day I can get there, but it looked to me so far away, and then you wonder how long is it going to take me to get there. But every year that goes by, you are earning your spot, you pick you spot, you pick your horses, and win some races, and finally you get to be nominated. But I said I don't think I'm going to get it, because I think Victor Espinoza deserves it. He won the Triple Crown; he won the Kentucky Derby a couple times. I still felt like I [was] a couple of years away, maybe. When they surprised me, I think about my journey: the Travers, my Eclipse Awards, the Grade 1s, and I appreciate that. I think back to how many Grade 1s I won in my career, the seven Breeders' Cups, and I appreciate that. I am thankful and blessed to be a part of all it."
Castellano has won the Travers a record five times and captured the 2006 Preakness with Bernardini. A seven-time Breeders' Cup winner, Castellano's top mounts have included 2004 Horse of the Year and Hall of Fame member Ghostzapper, as well as champions Flintshire, Honor Code, Princess of Sylmar, Dayatthespa and Zagora.
Trainer Chad Brown has seen the successful Castellano grow over his years on the backstretch.
"He's incredible," Brown said. "As long as I've known him, he's always been an incredibly hard worker. From the days he would be riding horses for my mentor Bobby Frankel, Ghostzapper and such, to now, you can see how much he's improved. A guy who always works tirelessly to sharpen his skills. He's always trying to get better and it shows in his results.
"Additionally, he happens to be a good guy to work with on a personal level," Brown added. "He's very passionate about his job and about the horses. He shows a lot of compassion to the animal; an all-around a very deserving guy."
Another who has witnessed Castellano's touch and finesse aboard a horse is trainer Todd Pletcher.
"Javier is very deserving. Aside from being a superstar jockey, he is a high quality person," said Pletcher. "He represents racing really well. I'm really happy for him; he's greatly deserving. I think he's a complete rider. He rides turf and dirt equally well. He's good on horses that show speed. He can also take a horse back, like most of the guys that are good enough to get to the Hall of Fame level, they are very diversified riders that can fit multiple types of horses well."
Breaking Lucky has settled in well at Saratoga ahead of Saturday's 90th running of the Grade 1, $1.2 million Whitney, trainer Reade Baker said by phone Thursday morning.
Owned by Gunpowder Farms and West Point Thoroughbreds, Breaking Lucky shipped from Woodbine and is staying at Jimmy Bond's stable. The 5-year-old son of Lookin At Lucky drew post 2 and is 8-1 on the morning line for the "Win and You're In" qualifier for the Breeders' Cup Classic.
Breaking Lucky, who finished third last out in the Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap on June 17 at Churchill Downs, last worked on July 25 at Woodbine's dirt training track in Rexdale, Ontario, going five furlongs in 59.40 seconds.
"He's coming into the race great," Baker said. "He worked in 59 and change the other day at Woodbine and shipped down there and they called me this morning and said everything was good. It's the same procedure as usual."
Baker said everything is on point for the Whitney, but weather conditions could change his plans. Breaking Lucky is cross-entered in the $100,000 Alydar on Sunday. Both races are at 1 1/8 miles.
"We won't run if it's muddy," he said. "We could look at the Alydar but if it's muddy for both days, we're going home."
Should the conditions prove favorable, Breaking Lucky will rematch Whitney 4-5 favorite Gun Runner, who bested the field in the Grade 1 Stephen Foster in his last start. Breaking Lucky will also be returning to the Saratoga Race Course for the first time since finishing fourth in last year's Grade 1 Woodward, notching a 105 Beyer Speed Figure that was the second-highest of his career.
"The distance is fine; it's no problem for him," Baker said. "He's got a jockey [Luis Contreras] that's riding in the best form of his life right now, so everything is positive. Let's just hope the rain stays away."
Breaking Lucky, who is 3-5-4 from 20 career starts, has finished on the board four times with Contreras in the irons, including a victory in the 2016 Grade 3 Seagram Cup at Woodbine.
"He likes the track. He doesn't like Gun Runner very much," Reade said with a laugh. "I don't think about the [trip]. That'll be the jock's business. He doesn't train him and I don't ride him."
Classic Empire is a possibility to breeze this weekend for the first time in more than two months, trainer Mark Casse said at his barn Thursday. The Pioneerof the Nile colt has not worked officially since June 2, being pulled from the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes because of a hoof abscess and skipping the Grade 1 Haskell last week at Monmouth Park. The 2016 champion 2-year-old male has not raced since finishing second to Cloud Computing in the Grade 1 Preakness on May 20.
"He was a happy camper this morning, but we still haven't made any decisions," Casse said. "We might breeze him this weekend. We're waiting for him to tell us when he's ready to go.
"He just hasn't had as much energy, day-to-day," he added. "He'll have a good day and then he'll have kind of an off-day. He's behaving perfectly. It's just his energy level. His foot seems to be great. I thought he moved great this morning."
Casse said Classic Empire reminds him of Tepin, the two-time Eclipse Champion Grass Mare, who skipped racing last summer at Saratoga after appearing what Casse termed "very, very dull" at the time. Tepin eventually ran second in the Grade 1 First Lady and Breeders' Cup Mile. After discussing the situation with Classic Empire owner John Oxley, Casse said they would not rush any decisions.
"He's a little bit like Tepin. I see some similarities from this time last year," Casse said. "He likes it chillier, too. I don't want to give a specific date because then everyone is disappointed if we don't do it.
"Instead of us telling him what we want him to do, we're going to let him tell us what he wants to do."
Casse said he is excited to see 2-year-old Mo Diddley make his stakes debut in the Grade 2, $200,000 Saratoga Special on August 13 for juveniles at 6 1/2 furlongs on the main track.
The Uncle Mo colt won his debut on May 18, finishing a head of Make Noise in the 4 ½-furlong sprint at Churchill Downs.
"We're really excited and think he [can be] a superstar," Casse said. "He's only started one time. Watching the head-on [camera], they broke and he took a right-hand turn, which 2-year-olds often do when they break on the outside the first time. He went out of the picture and then all of a sudden, he reappeared and he still won.
"We were impressed by that, but more importantly have been impressed with how he's trained since. We think he's a good horse. Right now, we think he could possibly be our next Classic Empire."
Shadwell Stable's Mohaymen is slated to return to dirt and has been cross-entered with an eye on the weather in a pair of stakes this weekend at Saratoga Race Course.
Trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, the 4-year-old Tapit colt is a main track-only entrant for the $100,000 Fasig-Tipton Lure on Saturday's Whitney undercard should weather force the 1 1/16-mile turf contest onto the main track. He's also been supplemented into the $100,000 Alydar at 1 1/8 miles on the main track on Sunday.
Mohaymen, a $2.2 million yearling purchase, rattled off four straight Grade 2 wins as a 2- and 3-year-old, including the 2016 Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park, but the 4-year-old Tapit colt has been winless since his undefeated five-race streak ended with a fourth-place finish in the Florida Derby in April 2016.
Last time out, the gray colt's connections tried him over the turf for the first time in a one-mile optional claiming race on July 14 at Belmont Park, where he finished sixth, beaten 3 ¼ lengths.
"We wanted to try one more time on the dirt and try to find an easy spot," said McLaughlin. "It's hard because he doesn't have any conditions, so we tried to enter here and hope that if it comes off, the track is not too bad and he only has four or five competitors."
The Florida Derby is the only start for Mohaymen over a wet track, although he finished fourth in the Kentucky Derby after a fast-moving spring storm minutes before left the racing surface with a little extra moisture.
"He's OK on a wet track," McLaughlin said. "The two races we didn't think he'd love were a little wet: the Florida Derby and the Kentucky Derby. It rained right before both races. If you look back, he was fourth. So, we think he'll handle it fine, especially if it's a short field."
Paul Pompa Jr.'s Your Love is entered among nine others to run in Saturday's Grade 1 Longines Test at seven furlongs. A four-wide trip heading into the stretch and a strong closing kick allowed her to break her maiden by a neck at first asking, and she returned to nail another foe at the wire after stepping up to allowance company despite a wider trip than her previous start.
The Test will be a big jump for the daughter by Flatter, but trainer Chad Brown seems confident that his filly can handle herself well on Saturday.
"She's doing very well, she's 2-for-2," Brown said. "She's never run in a stakes before. It's hard to go from an allowance race to a Grade 1 [but] her numbers are fast, and she trains like she's for real, so she's worth a shot in there. The Beyers are jumping up. She's one of the good ones. Hopefully, she works out a trip from that inside post, and hopefully work out a good trip from there."
Brown's stable ran a 1-2 combo in Wednesday's Shine Again Stakes with Carina Mia and Going for Broke, with the former winning by a neck at the wire. The effort from both leaves Brown with a few options.
"Both horses ran terrific, it's unfortunate to have to lose because they both ran good races. Carina Mia, ran to her works for us and she really gave a really good performance, a race that she can build off of," said Brown.
"Going for Broke ran outstanding when seven-eighths is not her distance, and for her to nearly win that race, having to spring took her out of her element a bit," he added. "She really showed a class tune there. I'm very pleased with her effort. She's likely to go on to a personal win, and now with a prep under her belt, Carina Mia, we will discuss what we are going to do this week, if we are going to keep her springing in a race like the Ballerina, or if we want to try training her out one more time."
The Brown-trained Grade 1 winner Paid Up Subscriber is out of surgery following a fractured right front ankle found after her 32 1/2-length victory over Terra Promessa and Apologynotaccepted in the 1 1/8-mile Shuvee on Sunday. The 5-year-old Candy Ride bay mare is doing well following the operation.
"We are picking her up today," Brown said. "She did fine. She'll be on the shelf for a couple of months.
"There are highs and lows sometimes in horseracing," he added. "She won such a large margin with the last stages of the race. Not even exerting herself. It's hard to imagine she was injured. These things happen and thankfully it wasn't anything serious; very repairable, and she's doing fine."