Barnstormers, Part Three: A split second decision can win or lose a race

September 21, 2023

Javier Castellano and Arcangelo focused on the win in the 2023 Travers Stakes. (Joe Labozzetta)

The Jockeys

By Maribeth Kalinich

Jockeys are unique athletes. They must remain amazingly fit but make weight. They must control 1,000+ pound sensitive, intelligent animals. The best ones have that special connection with their mounts. 

One of my favorite quotes is from an interview with Robby Albarado and The Real Players Inside The Backstretch: 

“We’re all lined up in the gate and the last horse loads. There’s two or three seconds in between and it’s quiet. Very very quiet. Because we know we’re about to break and all you can feel is the horse’s heart pumping. You can feel their heart beating through you. The two, three seconds is quiet. All you can feel is their heartbeat. That’s pretty wild.”

Ramon Dominguez told me a split second decision can win or lose a race. Successful jockeys must be strong and agile, both mentally and physically. They must have 360 vision, quick reflexes, intuition. 

It’s imperative that the pilot understands his or her horse. Not just through the trainer’s instructions, through the “feel” a natural rider has.

It’s an understatement to say that Eddie Arcaro was a skilled jockey. His record speaks for itself. Javier Castellano is having the year of his career. Two riders with the “feel.”


Eddie Arcaro

Eddie Arcaro. (Keeneland Library/Morgan Collection)

Arcaro won his first race in 1932 at the Agua Caliente racetrack in Tijuana, Mexico; he was 16 years old. In 1934, the inaugural year of Narragansett Park, Arcaro was a comparative unknown who rode many of his early career races at Gansett.

The 22-year-old Eddie Arcaro won his first of four leading rider titles at Saratoga in 1937.

That would be the first of his five Kentucky Derby victories. 

Arcaro won again in 1941 piloting Calumet Farm’s Whirlaway (and a Triple Crown) for Hall of Famer Ben Jones. 1945 he won on Fred Hooper’s Hoop Jr. for trainer Ivan Parke. Again, in 1948 atop Citation teaming with Calumet and Jones for his fourth Kentucky Derby (and second Triple Crown). And, in 1952, his fifth aboard Calumet Farm’s Hill Gail again for Jones. 

The skilled rider would win the Travers for a second time in 1942 aboard Shut Out, in 1944 with By Jimminy and in 1951 piloting Battlefield. 

He is tied with Bill Hartack for most Derby victories and has the most wins in the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes with six. Arcaro holds a record 17 wins in the Triple Crown series (including two Triple Crowns).

In 1953, Arcaro won the American Derby aboard Native Dancer at Washington Park. (Keeneland Library/Morgan Collection)

Arcaro also won the Suburban Handicap eight times, the Wood Memorial Stakes nine times and the Jockey Club Gold Cup ten times.

He was the victor in the Juvenile Stakes and the National Stallion Stakes seven times each, the Withers six times and the Kentucky Oaks four times. 

In international competition, at old Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto, Arcaro won the 1953 Queen’s Plate; at Laurel Park in Maryland he won the 1954 Washington, D.C. International against the best horses and riders from Europe.

He was the U.S. Champion Jockey by earnings in 1940, 1942, 1948, 1950, 1952 and 1958 with 4,799 career wins.

In 1953 Arcaro was voted the George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award, and the Big Sport of Turfdom Award in 1974.

In 1958 Arcaro was inducted into the National Hall of Fame and was also inducted into the Fair Grounds Racing Hall of Fame in 1971.

The Eddie Arcaro Stakes was run at Hialeah Park in his honor.

Active in jockey affairs, Arcaro was a driving force behind the creation of the Jockeys’ Guild. 

He retired to Miami, Florida, in 1962, due to severe bursitis in his arm. During his career Arcaro rode in 24,092 races with record setting earnings of $30,039,543. 

Eddie Arcaro in 1957. (By Igel B TyMaHe/Wikipedia Commons)

After working as a television racing commentator for CBS and ABC, Arcaro was a public relations officer for the Golden Nugget Casino in Las Vegas.

Arcaro also worked as a spokesman for the Buick Motor Division of General Motors, for which he voiced the well-known phrase “If you price a Buick, you’ll buy a Buick.” 

Also, for many years, he was the proprietor of a popular Italian restaurant in Beverly Hills.

Arcaro died in 1997. His body was cremated, and his ashes were interred in the columbarium at Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Cemetery in Miami. 

Today, he remains one of the best-known jockeys in the history of horse racing, called “the Master” for his riding skills, good sense of pace and the ability to switch his whip from one hand to the other with ease during a race.

Javier Castellano

Javier Castellano was born October 23, 1977, in Venezuela. He considers his father, also a jockey who died in 2000, to be the biggest influence on his career.

Racing runs deep in Castellano’s family. His uncle was a jockey and as is his younger brother Abel Castellano, Jr. 

Castellano won the Woodward at Belmont on Ghostzapper. (Adam Coglianese)

Castellano began his riding career in 1996 at Santa Rita and La Rinconada racecourses in Venezuela. In June 1997 he moved to the United States where he rode at racetracks in southern Florida until 2001 when he moved his tack to New York.

Castellano rode Frank Stronach’s colt Ghostzapper regularly starting in 2003. He was third in the Grade 1 King’s Bishop at Saratoga. Then he and Ghostzapper racked up a string of wins.

The Grade 1 Vosburgh in 2023 and Grade 2 Tom Fool in 2004, both at Belmont Park. Also, in 2004 the Grade 3 Iselin Breeders’ Cup Handicap at Monmouth Park and the Grade 1 Woodward at Belmont.

Castellano won the 2004 Breeders’ Cup Classic aboard Ghostzapper which earned the son of Awesome Again the 2004 Eclipse Award for Horse of the Year and other honors. 

In 2005, he and Ghostzapper won the Grade 1 Met Handicap.

His first Travers Stakes win would come in 2006 as well as first Jockey Club Gold Cup aboard Bernardini who he had won the Withers with that year. In fact, Castellano won 19 graded stakes in 2006. (And 18 in 2007. 21 in 2008. 26 in 2011. 33 in 2012. 45 in 2015.) 

In 2006 Castellano won the first of his two Preakness Stakes on Bernardini for Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s Darley Racing, His second was in 2017 aboard Klaravich Stables’ Cloud Computing. 

Javier Castellano wins the Breeders’ Cup Classics aboard Frank Stronach’s Ghostzapper in 2004. (Cindy Pierson Dulay/

Castellano received the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Jockey in 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016, each year having the highest purse winnings of any jockey in North America. In 2013, he finished the year with purse earnings of over $26.2 million, surpassing the single season record previously held by Ramon Dominguez in 2012. He passed 4,000 North American wins in February 2015, and by the end of the year had broken his own single-season winnings and earnings record.

He was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 2017.

In 2023 Castellano won two legs of the Triple Crown on two separate horses, winning aboard Mage in the Kentucky Derby and Arcangelo in the Belmont Stakes. It was Castellano’s first career victory in each race.

Castellano aboard Cloud Computing in the Winner’s Circle at Pimlico Race Course. (Jim McCue/MJC)

The seasoned rider has won seven of the 14 Breeders’ Cup races in addition to the Classic in 2004: Dirt Mile in 2015 and 2018, Distaff in 2004, Juvenile Fillies in 2013 and 2019, Filly & Mare Turf in 2012 and 2014, Juvenile Fillies Turf in 2016 and Turf Sprint in 2019. 

When Javier Castellano took over the irons, something clicked in Arcangelo. Sometimes there is just a connection between a horse and jockey that cannot be put into words. It’s that “whisperer” phenomenon.

Castellano had already won big races. But there was something special about his three stakes wins aboard this elegant gray. Not just that these were prominent stakes, to say the least. 

The consummate rider was getting to experience a young horse maturing with every race. Learning, understanding his job, relaxing. Gaining confidence. And growing stronger. With all of that happening this horse needed an intuitive, patient jockey. 

Javier Castellano and Mage after winning the Kentucky Derby. (Daniella Ricci/Past The Wire)

Let’s back up out of the trailer and remember that Castellano started out his spring campaign at Keeneland winning the Grade 2 Appalachian aboard Papilio (IRE) April 8. 

Piloting Mage to a Kentucky Derby victory on May 6th, he also won the Grade 2 American Turf aboard Webslinger on the undercard.

A thrilling finish to the Peter Pan aboard Arcangelo. (Susie Raisher)

Then he won the Grade 3 Peter Pan May 13 on a maiden winner, Arcangelo, who he was aboard for the second time.

Castellano brought Mage back the following week (two weeks later for Mage) as the only Derby representative to take third in the Preakness. He has already scored a second on the undercard in the Grade 3 Gallorette with Sopran Baslilea (IRE). 

But the Hall of Famer wasn’t resting on a haystack. Off to Belmont. 

Mage would not run in the Belmont Stakes, but the young ridgling Castellano piloted to victory in the Peter Pan was supplemented in to make a start. Blue Rose Farm’s Arcangelo. 

While awaiting the Belmont Stakes Castellano continued to rack up wins in maiden claiming and allowance races. He scored a close second in the Grade 3 Regret at Churchill Downs June 3rd aboard Papilio (IRE). 

The day after his historic Belmont Stakes victory Castellano tenaciously guided Unified Alliance to place a length back in the Jersey Girl at Belmont Park. 

Castellano was hitting the board at a high percentage at Belmont and closed out the meet with a win on July 1 with Three Technique in the Grade 2 John A. Nerud and a second in the Dwyer aboard Saudi Crown. And one for the road—victory with Evvie Jets in the Perfect Sting July 2. 

Moving to Saratoga for the summer, July 13th Castellano guided Becky’s Joker to a score in the Grade 3 Schuylerville, then won Coronation Stakes with Unified Alliance on July 14th. 

Castellano and Becky’s Joker winning the Schuylerville. (Adam Coglianese)

July 22nd aboard Therapist Castellano captured the Grade 1 United Nations at Monmouth Park. He also won a MSW with Leading Contender and, oh yes, he was second aboard Mage in the Grade 1 Haskell. 

Castellano headed south to Colonial Downs in Virginia for a day August 12th and won two graded stakes. The perpetual pilot captured the Grade 1 Beverly D. with Fev Rover (IRE) and the Grade 2 Secretariat with Gigante. 

In between hitting the board at Saratoga Castellano popped off to Woodbine August 20th to win the Grade 2 Dance Smartly aboard Miss Dracarys. Plus, a $111K AOC aboard Rosebud’s Hope. 

Everything was coming up roses for Castellano. Blue roses.

August 26th, Castellano had eight mounts on the 12-race card with the Grade 1 Travers being Race 12. 

He bookended his Summer at Saratoga with a victory aboard Bright Future in the $1 million Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup on Sept. 2nd. 

So far this year, Castellano has racked up 106 wins added to his career 5,701 firsts. He added over $15 million to bring his career earnings just under $392 million. 

You could say Javier Castellano is having a pretty good year. And it’s not even over!

A special moment for Castellano. (Joe Labozzetta)

Look for Part Four of Barnstormers in Past The Wire. To read Part Two click here.

Contributing Authors

MariBeth Kalinich, Senior Editor, Past the Wire

Maribeth Kalinich, Senior Editor, Graphic Designer

Maribeth Kalinich grew up in a family with a love for horses, a passion for Thoroughbred horse racing and a taste for playing the ponies....

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