The 2020s have been challenging for Javier Castellano, to say the least.
The Hall of Fame jockey had COVID-19 early in 2020. He had hip surgery at the end of the year, and he’s battled a series of injuries over the past few years. Business dropped off, he was losing top mounts, and his annual wins total and purse earnings were way down.
The 45-year-old Venezuelan with the friendly smile and a good word for everyone, is having a year to remember. He ended an 0-for-15 losing streak in the Kentucky Derby (G1) when he won aboard Mage. He ended an 0-for-14 losing streak in the Belmont Stakes (G1) aboard Arcangelo, and then rode the 3-year-old to victory in the Travers (G1).
On Saturday at Saratoga, Castellano rode Bright Future to a nose victory over Proxy in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1). And there’s still four months left in the year, including the Breeders’ Cup in November.
“Javier has had a phenomenal year,” Todd Pletcher, who trains Bright Future, said after the JCGC. “He’s making all the right decisions, and it is great to see him back in top form after taking some time off for an injury. He’s riding as good as ever.”
Mike Repole, who co-owns Bright Future, says “Javier is just lights out. Honestly, for 45, he’s found the Fountain of Youth. He’s having an incredible year just winning everything.”
So it seems. Castellano is back in the riding groove. He’s sixth in the nation in purse earnings with more than $14.8 million, and his numbers are now on course with his numbers pre-2020 when he was among the nation’s top riders on an annual basis.
The Gold Cup win gave Castellano his sixth Grade 1 win of the year and a total of 15 graded stakes win in 2023.
“Thank God. I’ve been blessed, very lucky and very fortunate to ride the best horses, especially with Todd Pletcher, one of the best trainers in the country,’’ Castellano said after Saturday’s big win. “He gave me the opportunity to ride this horse and that’s the key. Keep positive and working hard, and see everything come around.”
Trainer Jen Antonucci, the trainer of Arcangelo, was only too happy to have Castellano ride her colt again in the Travers. While he broke a few winless streaks in the Triple Crown races, Castellano extended his record of Travers victories to seven.
“Of course, it means a lot to me because this game is up and down,’’ he said. “I remember last year, I didn’t have any horses to ride on the (Travers) card. I had to go out of town. I ended up riding at Monmouth Park last year because I didn’t have any business. The year before I only rode one horse on the 14 races, and it was a maiden special weight.
“I don’t take anything for granted in this game. You have to work hard and find the right horses and trust me, seven winners means a lot to me. A lot of people gave me help to get it done. It’s not only me, my agent (PJ Campo) put in a lot of effort, and the trainers and owners gave me the support to ride the best horses in the grounds. This game is not easy. I was at the bottom. I was at the top. It’s hard. That’s why I like to enjoy the beautiful moments when you win those kind of races and those beautiful horses they put on a show and the fans and everybody really appreciates them for that.”
The writing team at US Racing is comprised of both full-time and part-time contributors with expertise in various aspects of the Sport of Kings.