Just in case anyone had forgotten, Javier Castellano served some notice this spring that he remains a force to be reckoned with on the racetrack.
A 2017 Hall of Fame inductee and four-time Eclipse Award winner, Castellano has battled injuries in recent years and a decline in business, but those tough times appear to be a thing of the past, as the Venezuela native is once again riding at an elite level. Never was that more evident than during this year’s Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes. Aboard 15-to-1 longshot Mage, Castellano won the Run for the Roses for the first time in his illustrious career. Five weeks later, he piloted Arcangelo to his first victory in the Belmont at 8-to-1 odds.
The Derby and Belmont were among only a few missing checkmarks in a brilliant career. Since making his debut in 1997, Castellano has won more than 5,600 races with purse earnings of more than $383 million—but prior to this spring, Castellano was a combined 0 for 29 in the Derby and Belmont.
“I never give up,” Castellano said after the Derby. “I always try hard to do the right thing. It took me a little while to get here, but I’ve finally got it. I’m very blessed.”
Prior to the May 6 race, Castellano was watching television coverage of the Derby card in the jockeys’ room and saw his 0-for-15 record highlighted on the NBC broadcast.
“At that moment it gave me so much inspiration and I thought, ‘This is the year,’” he said. “I’m going to break it here and win the race. I have a lot of confidence in myself. I only needed a little opportunity to get it done.”
Through Belmont weekend, Castellano ranked fifth among all North American riders in purse earnings this year with more than $8.4 million. Among the 10 top-earning jockeys, Castellano is the oldest at age 45, but he’s riding with the same vigor as his younger competitors. A two-time leading rider at Saratoga, Castellano arrived this year having finished seventh in the standings at the Spa last year with 25 wins.
Mage and Arcangelo, meanwhile, will be top contenders for this year’s Travers Stakes, a race Castellano has thrived in, having won it a record six times. Can he make it seven? If his performance in the first half of this year is any indication, he very well might.