Javier Castellano could not be blamed for thinking about what might have
been. But Gulfstream’s leading rider – the man who set a record earlier
this meet for most wins by a Gulfstream jockey and also won his 3,000
career race - prefers to look ahead, especially to his ride aboard Risen
Star (G2) winner El Padrino, the 2-1 second choice in Saturday’s $1
million Florida Derby (G1).
Castellano came to Florida this winter as the regular rider of Union
Rags, the early 6-5 favorite for the Florida Derby, as well as the
promising young colt Algorithms. After Algorithms blew away Eclipse
champion Hansen Jan. 29 in the Holy Bull (G3), Castellano had to make a
decision on which 3-year-old would be his preference looking ahead to
the spring classics.
He opted for Algorithms, only to have the son of Bernardini suffer an
injury that will keep him on the sidelines until summer. By that time,
Julien Leparoux had been named the new rider for Union Rags, who
established himself as the early favorite for the Kentucky Derby with a
resounding triumph Feb. 26 in the Fountain of Youth (G2).
Castellano is fatalistic about the turn of events. “Unfortunately
things happen. It was a tough decision. It was back and forth for about
two weeks. Union Rags is a great horse. I chose the other horse and he
got hurt. It’s part of the game.”
Choosing Algorithms over Union Rags was more than a horse-vs.-horse
decision. Algorithms is trained by Todd Pletcher, who has played a major
role in Castellano rising to the elite level of the nation’s jockeys
and running away with the riders’ competition this winter.
“Todd has given me a lot of support the last couple of years to put me
in a good position in my career. Right now he has the best horses in the
country. I’m really blessed to be participating in his organization.”
Pletcher will be giving Castellano a leg up on El Padrino, a three-time
winner in five starts, including a decisive allowance win early in the
meeting. Among those trailing him home was Take Charge Indy, the morning
line third choice in the Florida Derby.
El Padrino’s triumph in the Risen Star, his first graded stakes win,
represented another significant step forward. “He was very game. He was a
fighter the last part of the race. He put everything together. He’s a
courageous horse,” Castellano said. “He’s well bred, by Pulpit, and I
think he’s going to put on a really good show Saturday.”