Castellano moves up jockey leader board

Four wins Sunday, including Saratoga Special
With four wins Sunday, jockey Javier Castellano is moving up the Saratoga leader board.
With four wins Sunday, jockey Javier Castellano is moving up the Saratoga leader board.

Gunnevera ran as if to say, “Don’t forget about me.”

Javier Castellano rode as if to say the same thing.

While the other four horses in the field duked it out in a packed speed duel through the first half-mile, the colt from Florida bided his time by himself, seemingly well out of it in the Grade II Saratoga Special at Saratoga Race Course on Sunday.

Castellano kept him clear of the other four — avoiding a demolition derby incident at the three-eighths pole in the process — and coaxed a closing kick out of Gunnevera down the middle of the homestretch that was good for a one-length victory in the second leg of Saratoga’s graded stakes for 2-year-old colts.

That gave Castellano, a two-time Saratoga jockey meet champion, four wins on the card and moved him from near the periphery of the rider standings to right in the thick of things through 21 of 40 racing days.

Heading into today’s card, Irad Ortiz Jr., the defending meet champion has 30 wins, John Velazquez has 25, and Castellano’s big day got him into a tie for third with Jose Ortiz at 24.

“Sometimes that’s the way it goes,” Castellano said. “I’ve been very fortunate the last couple years, and last year I had the best year ever in my career. I won five Grade I’s here, all those big years, and this year, it’s been a little struggle to chase those kind of horses.”

His horse in the Saratoga Special chased everybody else until they got into the turn, at which point Gunnevera moved around the pack to get into better position.

At the three-eighths pole, Recruiting Ready banged into Tip Tap Tapizar, causing him to smack into Sonic Mule on the rail.

Recruiting Ready and Irad Ortiz moved into first from there and led by 31⁄2 lengths at the top of the stretch and appeared on their way to victory until Gunnevera motored past him in the final sixteenth of a mile under a left-handed whip by Castellano.

Recruiting Ready finished a whopping 14 lengths ahead of Tip Tap Tapizar, but was disqualified and dropped to fourth place by the stewards because of the smash-and-grab at the three-eighths pole.

“Irad told me when the other horse (Tip Tap Tapizar] switched leads, he came out a little bit and bumped off him and went in,” said Recruiting Ready’s trainer, Horacio DePaz. “I’m not sure. He said he didn’t come over. He held his ground.”

“Those four horses got hooked up with the speed and probably looked at me and thought I didn’t have a chance in the race,” Castellano said. “I just picked it up little by little, and turning for home, he went great.”

The Saratoga Special was the first time Castellano has been on Gunnevera’s back, but not his first time working with fellow Venezuelan Antonio Sano, the colt’s trainer.

Sano won over 3,000 races in South America before coming to south Florida full-time in 2009, and Castellano has ridden for him at Gulfstream Park.

“We’ve known each other for a long time, and he told me before he brought the horse here, ‘We’ve got a

really nice horse to run here,’  ” Castellano said. “But sometimes, you have a commitment. I was supposed to ride a horse and the horse got sick, so I ended up open and picked up the phone, ‘Hey, Antonio, I would like to ride your horse,’ and thank God he gave me the opportunity.”Believe me, he’s got a good background. He was the leading trainer in Venezuela for 18 years in a row.”

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