Castellano Weighs in on Success Ahead of Pegasus: ‘I’m Very Lucky’

January 24, 2024

Javier Castellano aboard Mage after capturing the Kentucky Derby (Daniella Ricci/Past The Wire)

David Joseph/Gulfstream Park

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla.— Hall of Fame jockey Javier Castellano enjoyed a career resurgence in 2023, winning the Kentucky Derby (G1) and Belmont (G1) for the first time to complete a personal Triple Crown, and enhancing his Saratoga record with a seventh victory in the Travers (G1).

The 47-year-old Venezuela native captured the Run for the Roses at Churchill Downs with Mage, the third leg of the Triple Crown at Belmont and the Midsummer Derby at Saratoga aboard Arcangelo.

Though his number of overall wins (146) was less than half of his career high (362) set in 2013 – the first of four straight years that ended with an Eclipse Award – Castellano banked $19.5 million in purses, his best year since topping $25 million in 2019.

“I’ve been very fortunate and blessed in this business. A lot of trainers, a lot of owners give me the opportunity to ride the best horses on the grounds,” Castellano said. “We’re looking forward to 2024 and hopefully we keep the momentum from races like the Kentucky Derby, the Travers, the Belmont Stakes, all those big races … and the horses keep developing for the 2024 big races.”

Castellano will be a prominent player Saturday at Gulfstream Park with mounts on Il Miracolo in the $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1) presented by Baccarat, Main Event in the $1 million 1/ST Bet Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational (G1) and Full Count Felicia in the $500,000 TAA Pegasus World Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G2)..

This will be the fifth time for Castellano riding in the Pegasus World Cup, having won with City of Light in 2019 and finishing second with West Coast (2018), fourth with Keen Ice (2017) and 11th with O’Connor (2023).

Il Miracolo makes the grade in the Smarty Jones (G3) Aug. 22, 2023, at Parx (EQUI-PHOTO)

Il Miracolo, based at Gulfstream with trainer Antonio Sano, comes into the Pegasus having won the Smarty Jones (G3), run second by a head in the Fayette (G2) and third in the Pennsylvania Derby (G1) and Clark (G2) to cap his 2023 campaign.

“The Pegasus is a race we all look forward to. I was able to win a couple of years ago with City of Light. He was very impressive that day, and now this year, I have the opportunity to ride one of the best horses, and hopefully everything falls in the right direction,” Castellano said. “You’ve got to be there to win the Pegasus. It’s an exciting race. We’re all looking forward to 2024 and hopefully starting off on the right foot.”

Castellano has ridden in the Turf four times, his best finish a second aboard Ivar last January. This year he will be on Main Event, a front-running winner of Gulfstream’s Pegasus Turf prep, the Dec. 30 Fort Lauderdale (G2), by a head over late-running Kingmax, who also returns in the Turf.

“When he saw [Kingmax] coming on the outside he liked to engage a little bit and he finished strong. Going into the Pegasus Turf he’s going to be really comfortable,” Castellano said. “It’s going to be a step up a little bit. We all do the big races this time of the year you have to show up. I have a lot of confidence in my horse that he can do it.”

The Filly & Mare Turf will be Castellano’s second time riding Full Count Felicia and first since they ran second in a six-furlong maiden special weight on the grass in April 2022 for previous trainer Chad Summers. Moved that summer to Maryland-based Brittany Russell, who has a string at Gulfstream this winter, Full Count Felicia has won five of seven starts including the 1 1/8-mile All Along in September at Pimlico and one-mile Suwannee River (G3) Dec. 30 at Gulfstream.

“Pegasus World Cup is an amazing [day]. A lot of people show up, friends and family. A lot of people come to the races and enjoy the beautiful sunshine,” Castellano said. “This is one of the best times of the year to be here in South Florida and see some of the best horses on the grounds.”

Castellano, 46, has won 5,747 races and is approaching $400 million in purse earnings during a U.S. career that began in South Florida in 1997. The two-time Preakness (G1) winner remains as humble and genuine as when he was starting out.

“This game is very unpredictable. It seems to me that’s one of the things that’s really, really good about the sport. One day you can be on the bottom and one day you can be on the top,” Castellano said. “You have to be consistent. You have to be disciplined and detailed and show up every single day. You never know what door is going to open.

“You have to deliver. You have to be consistent. You have to be positive every single day. You never know what kind of horse you’re going to ride and what kind of horse is going to win the Kentucky Derby,” he added. “If somebody told me, ‘You’re going to win your first Kentucky Derby [and] your first Belmont,’ I wouldn’t have believed it. But I’ve been disciplined, been doing the right things and trying to find the right horses and do my homework. It paid off. I was very lucky.”

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