SARATOGA SPRINGS — Javier Castellano’s face was twisted in pain and anger after the third race at Saratoga Race Course on Saturday.
And he was the winning rider.
In a Grade II stakes.
While beating a champion.
Starship Jubilee won the Ballston Spa with Castellano aboard, giving the 7-year-old Canadian Horse of the Year her sixth win in her last seven starts dating back to September, all in stakes.
Castellano paid the price, though, when Starship Jubilee broke sideways out of the gate and Castellano smashed his foot into the door. Perhaps the only people madder than him afterward were those who bet the farm on Eclipse Award winner Sistercharlie, who went off at odds of 2-5 and could do no better than third after a long layoff since last November.
Castellano’s post-race comments were a mix of praise for his mare and ripping the gate crew for not letting the horses settle before starting the race.
“With the pain, I tried to rein in the horse a little bit,” he said of the early strides out of the gate. “I think I grabbed too much. It looked like the horse was keen, but she wasn’t. I think a combination of the pain and trying to rush the horse, I think it was the wrong combination, right there in the first quarter [mile].
“And finally I decided to be a little more patient and relax the horse, and the way the horse rated was phenomenal. And very lucky, to beat one of the best horses in the country, Sistercharlie. I think it was the right time today and the right place to beat her. Not to take anything away from my horse. She’s a phenomenal filly.”
Starship Jubilee was saddled by Shug McGaughey in place of winning trainer Kevin Attard, who was busy with saddling duties of his own at Woodbine in Toronto.
He watched his mare’s big victory on a TV monitor at Woodbine, where Attard “made a little bit of noise in the paddock,” he said by phone.
Starship Jubilee stalked in third as long shot North Broadway, stablemate to Sistercharlie from trainer Chad Brown’s barn, got out in front by as many as 10 lengths on the backstretch. She faded to last, while Starship Jubilee made her move at the top of the stretch and held off Call Me Love by a neck.
It was another length and a quarter back to Sistercharlie and jockey John Velazquez.
“I kept saying to the TV, ‘Give me a little more, mama,’ and she did,” Attard said by phone. “She pinned her ears back and kept that horse at bay.
“She’s just a special horse. She’s 7, and a lot of horses, as they get older, lose a step or two, but arguably, this horse has gotten better as she’s gotten older. She has the will and desire to win, and I’ll probably never come across another horse as good as her.”
Likewise, Brown said Sistercharlie is “certainly the best one I’ve ever trained,” based on the fact that she’s won seven Grade I stakes, including six straight from the 2018 Diana at Saratoga to the Flower Bowl at Belmont Park in October.
A combination of an injury out of her third-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf in November and disruption to the 2020 stakes schedule due to the COVID-19 pandemic kept Sustercharlie away from the races until Saturday.
“She kind of got double-whammied a little bit,” Brown said. “She started very late. These two fillies that finished ahead of her are very nice fillies, and they’ve run this year already. They just had a little more at this distance and a little recency, and they’re good horses.
“I thought she galloped out real well, and I think she’ll get a lot out of this race.”
Brown said he’s looking forward to running Sistercharlie back at the meet in the Diana on Aug. 23, especially since that race has another sixteenth of a mile in distance, which she should prefer.
Sistercharlie has won the Diana the last two years, and the 2018 victory was part of her Eclipse Award-winning season.