SARATOGA SPRINGS — John Velazquez and Ramon Dominguez co-presented fellow jockey Javier Castellano as he was inducted into the National Racing Museum’s Hall of Fame.
Dominguez credited Castellano for “his passion for his profession, coupled with his tremendous focus, his dedication as well as his pride to be the best jockey he can be.”
Velazquez’s words followed much of the same theme, while describing Castellano as someone who always asked questions of his more-experienced elders in pursuit of as much information and insight as he could get to hone his craft.
Realizing something wrong with this picture of humility, Velazquez turned and asked Castellano, “So why are you always kicking my butt?”
Heading into Friday’s induction ceremony at the Fasig-Tipton Pavilion, Castellano had kicked home 4,729 winners for purse winnings of almost $285 million since setting up shop in the U.S. from Venezuela in 1997.
Among them are some of the biggest races in North America, and the 39-year-old Castellano is still in the midst of a four-year string of Eclipse Awards as the most outstanding jockey in North America.
His long list of those to thank included trainers Todd Pletcher and Chad Brown, for whom Castellano has ridden many graded stakes winners, such as Cloud Computing for Brown in the Preakness this year.
He also had a large group of family members in the pavilion, including his brother Abel, a former jockey who trains now.
“And of course, my wife [Abby],” Javier Castellano said. “She always supports me, up and down. It’s easy when things are going well. But sometimes you have a tough day, and she’s always there to support.
“I want to congratulate all the inductees, especially the Phipps, who have done so much for me, New York racing and our industry.”
Castellano rode Pine Island, the 2006 Alabama winner at Saratoga Race Course, for the Phipps Stable.
The late Ogden Mills Phipps, the long-time chairman of The Jockey Club, was one of three 2017 inductees in the Pillars of Turf category.
Castellano, who has never won the Kentucky Derby or Belmont Stakes, has one other Preakness victory, with Bernardini in 2006. That colt also gave him the first of his record five Travers wins. The others were Afleet Express (2010), Stay Thirsty (2011), V.E. Day (2014) and Keen Ice (2015), who beat Triple Crown winner American Pharoah.
One of Castellano’s other top horses were Ghostzapper, who won the 2004 Breeders’ Cup Classic
Besides Saratoga, the Breeders’ Cup has been a particularly fruitful venue for Castellano. He won the 2012 Filly and Mare Turf with Zagora, the 2013 Juvenile Fillies (Ria Antonia), the 2014 Filly and Mare Turf (Dayatthespa), the 2015 Dirt Mile (Liam’s Map), the 2015 Distaff (Stopchargingmaria) and the 2016 Juvenile Fillies Turf (New Money Honey).
He took the opportunity of his acceptance speech to dedicate his award to Venezuela, which has experienced political turmoil and violence since the springtime.
“That’s where I come from, and unfortunately Venezuela is going through a lot of tough times,” Castellano said. “It’s political, and it’s very complicated and I don’t know how to describe it, but I’m just praying for my country and hope everything goes well.”
He was joined in the class of 2017 by two other jockeys, Victor Espinoza and the late Garrett Gomez, who died in 2016 after years of personal trouble related to drug use.
The core of Espinoza’s résumé, of course, was his work aboard American Pharoah and two other horses who won the first two legs of the Triple Crown, California Chrome and War Emblem. That meant that the subject of Pharoah’s loss to Keen Ice in the Travers came up twice during the ceremony.
“In Saratoga, I have nothing but bad memories . . . well, there’s one good memory,” Espinoza said, to laughs as he looked around the gallery.
The only horse inducted was the great turf mare Goldikova, who won three straight Breeders’ Cup Miles.
Besides Phipps, Breeders’ Cup founder John Gaines and Col. Matt Winn, who put the Kentucky Derby on the map as the most prominent race in the U.S., were inducted as Pillars of the Turf.
The Steeplechase Review Committee voted in the horse Good Night Shirt and the late Tom Voss, who trained Eclipse Award winner Slip Away and seven National Steeplechase Association champions. On the flat track at Saratoga, he trained 2000 Grade I Sword Dancer winner John’s Call.
Reach Gazette Sportswriter Mike MacAdam at 395-3148 or [email protected] Follow on Twitter @Mike_MacAdam.