05/01/2012 2:38PM

2012 Kentucky Derby: Castellano lands on Gemologist after roller-coaster ride

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Tom Keyser
Jockey Javier Castellano rode Gemologist to victory in the Wood Memorial after starting 2012 as the rider of Union Rags and several other Derby hopefuls.

Most jockeys spend all winter in search of the horse they will ride in the Kentucky Derby. Javier Castellano thought he had found his Derby mount nine months ago.

After Castellano guided Union Rags to a 7 1/4-length victory in the Grade 2 Saratoga Special on Aug. 15, he thought to himself “that’s my Derby horse.” He felt only stronger about it after he rode Union Rags to a 5 1/4-length victory in the Grade 1 Champagne at Belmont in October.

While Union Rags will be one of the favorites for Saturday’s 138th Kentucky Derby, Castellano will be on the back of a different horse. By his own choosing, he will not ride Union Rags.

Instead, Castellano will be aboard Gemologist, the undefeated winner of the Wood Memorial. Gemologist certainly has a chance to win, but he figures to be a longer price on the tote board than Union Rags, who will be ridden by Julien Leparoux.

The decision Castellano and his agent, Matt Muzikar, had to make speaks to the prominent role Castellano now plays in the barn of powerhouse trainer Todd Pletcher. It also speaks to the rise to prominence of Castellano, who leads all riders through the first four months of 2012 in purse money won with $6.8 million.

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A little bribe never hurts

Castellano, 34, was aboard no fewer than five talented 3-year-olds for Pletcher during the winter. The most impressive of those was Algorithms, who destroyed defending 2-year-old champion Hansen in the Grade 3 Holy Bull on Jan. 29 at Gulfstream. Earlier that same day, Castellano won an allowance race aboard the Pletcher-trained El Padrino, on whom he would win the Risen Star Stakes. Castellano also had ridden Discreet Dancer to a pair of emphatic victories.

“Sometimes it’s hard to find one, now you get on four,” said Castellano, who also had Gemologist waiting in the wings off his 3-for-3 2-year-old campaign.

With Algorithms, Discreet Dancer, and Union Rags, trained by Michael Matz, all pointing to the Fountain of Youth on Feb. 26, Castellano had to decide whom to ride. On Feb. 12, two weeks before the Fountain of Youth, Castellano and Muzikar chose Algorithms, only to have that horse get hurt a few days before the race, an injury that knocked him off the Derby trail.

Muzikar and Castellano admitted part of their decision was to show some loyalty to Pletcher, who has used Castellano on a more accelerated rate over the years.

“It’s not always black and white,” Muzikar said. “It’s not always about which horse is better.”

However, Castellano said that the way Algorithms ran in the Holy Bull, “I thought he could beat Union Rags.”

The day before the Fountain of Youth, Castellano won the Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds on El Padrino. Perhaps that would be his Derby horse. He faltered in the Florida Derby.

But on March 16, Castellano was reunited with Gemologist, a horse he had ridden to victories in an allowance race and the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club – both at Churchill Downs – last fall. In a one-turn mile allowance race, Gemologist rolled to a seven-length victory over the Grade 1 Hopeful winner Currency Swap.

Three weeks later, Castellano rode Gemologist again in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct, where he would need a top-two finish just to qualify for the Derby.

In the Wood, Gemologist was five wide into the first turn and three wide and about three lengths off the early pace down the backside in the Wood. He made the lead turning for home, appeared to be opening up in the stretch and repelled a late run by Alpha, who looked as though he was going to run by Gemologist.

“At sixteenth pole he started waiting, waiting, waiting for horses,” Castellano said. “When he saw Alpha, he took off. That showed me he’s got a lot of potential and he needed to start putting it together, and I think he will. I was so proud the way he did it. He showed me he could go that far, and he was very competitive.”

Gemologist will be Castellano’s sixth Derby mount. His first one, Bellamy Road in 2005, was his best chance. Coming off a 17-length victory in the Wood Memorial, Bellamy Road was sent off the 5-2 favorite. He finished seventh. Castellano’s four mounts since have finished 15th, 18th, 13th, and 13th.

“I believe the Derby is about luck,” Castellano said. “Of course you need to have the horse, but you need to have the luck.”

Castellano also has a big chance in Friday’s Kentucky Oaks as he will ride morning-line favorite Grace Hall. Castellano picked up that mount because of the success he had during the Gulfstream meet where he set a record with 112 wins, including 10 stakes victories.

That certainly caught the attention of trainer Tony Dutrow, who talked the owners of Grace Hall into making a change from two-time Eclipse Award-winning rider Ramon Dominguez to Castellano following Grace Hall’s loss in the Davona Dale.

“Castellano’s setting records,” Dutrow told his owners. “He’s in a zone here like nobody else. I think what is in the best interests of us is to join that guy that is white hot.”

While Castellano has not usurped John Velazquez as the first-call rider for Pletcher, he has certainly received a ton of business this year. He has 28 winners from 75 mounts for Pletcher. John Velazquez is 37 for 95 in 2012 for Pletcher.

Pletcher has used Castellano increasingly over the years and has enough faith in the jockey that he told him last summer not to be afraid to use his own judgment when a plan discussed in the paddock doesn’t lend itself to working out.

“We talk about Plan A and the way you and I think the race is going to unfold, but when it doesn’t – which happens a lot – you got to know I’m okay with you calling an audible,” Pletcher said he told Castellano. “You’re not going to be right all the time, but you can’t always stick to exactly Plan A. Since then, it’s paid off a number of times.”

Castellano hopes it pays off Saturday with his first Derby victory.

“I really want to get this done,” Castellano said. “The way the story started this year with my Derby horse, it’s been like a roller coaster.”

robert More than 1 year ago
If you think Union Rags was only closing cause Borel stopped riding in the Florida Derby you have issues. He had to keep riding for fear of being passed by Reveron much less Union Rags. I wish that everyone could see things as simple as somr of you people do, then Union Rags wouldn't be vying for favoritism off of a horrible loss to the mighty Take Charge Indy! Sorry what where the odds on Take Charge Indy again isn't he the latest Slayer of Union Rags?
Scott More than 1 year ago
Gemologist definitely looks like a player to me. Those 2 wins over the CD surface last year can't be understated and of the top 3 finishers in the BCJ, only Creative Cause has a true distance pedigree. I think a lot of people are fooling themselves about Union Rags and making something about him closing into Take Charge Indy in the Florida Derby as he had a lot more run. TCI was already the winner and wasn't being asked anymore, so while it's true UR did make up some ground it's not like he was closing into a horse in full stride. Remember, he couldn't get past lightly regarded Reveron, so how strong was his closing kick. I still think Tapit's are better suited to shorter distances in general. He's had a couple that seemed to handle more, but with Hansen's seeming need to be on or near the lead, I don't see him lasting. So that leaves Creative Cause as Gemologist's toughest opponent of the top 3 from the BCJ. Depending on Post Draw, I'll definitely be including Gemologist in my exotics, along with Creative Cause.
Rosie More than 1 year ago
he shoulda stood on UNION RAGS
Rodney Dangerfield More than 1 year ago
That would be funny to see
Kelly Laxen More than 1 year ago
I really like this one. If he had 1 more 100 beyer fig i might have him on top? The FACT that Bodemeister is the only horse with 3 figs that high makes him my selection!
Don Passidomo More than 1 year ago
Kelly your selection could do it no doubt, but how will he run on CD dirt and will he be the first horse since "Apollo" nearly 100 yrs ago to win the KD without running once as a 2 yr old? Those are my huge question marks with Bodemeister, nice recent win at another track does not mean the same at Churchill Downs against these guys, Don
Rosie More than 1 year ago
those beyer's #'s don't mean that much to me...1st off the dirt at SA. is new and super fast- add to the fact that usually cal shippers to oaklawn alway's preform..because,,the stretch is so short...bodemister should be in the top 5 but i don't know about the win rags was however...put in those spots in the FLA. derby and he responded well-he never felt the whip...and was actually in 2ed place right after the wire...another 1/8 of a mile and indy woulda been toast...just watch the race,,,also in the ark. derby bode had his way ..no pressure
Charles Myers More than 1 year ago
cant pressure what u cant catch.....23 quarter 46.55 haif buc 12 for 6f easy 4th quarter and 11.97 last 1/8 did it easy. very deep field gemologist will have a target and rags could do great or flounder like optimizer to hit board if he runs 4get hansen with choker dominguez, dullahan stopped right after wire in blu grass1 1/4 will kill him. creative cause went well the day and daddy long legs hmmmmn. (bode/gem ex box) who the hell knows after that but it mayb as simple as box gem bode an rags but good luck to you rosie cant fault rags but u will beat bode an gem to win it my cash will be on gem an jj to win/ back it up w bode on top of exotics as well as gem.
WILL More than 1 year ago
BAFFERT LEFT CA. BECAUSE HE WASNT SURE HE WAS BEATING CREATIVE CAUSE. DONT YOU THINK STAYING HOME AND EXTRA REST WOULD HAVE BEEN BETTER?
Michael D More than 1 year ago
Will i doubt Baffert ran from any horse. He said he didnt have Bode cranked and when told before last race he needed to win to get in Derby he said dont worry we will be in derby. Cause is a nice horse but have a feeling Bode is beyond a nice horse and see how quickly Mike Smith got off his other mount. I am a Union Rags fan but feel the only one possibly to beat Rags is Bode with clean trips
Douglas Rutherford More than 1 year ago
This head-line says the whole truth , a roller coaster ride for JC . But David Grening : if your going to post a colum , get your facts Correct before your statements please . You know I say the truth ! Please dont cover-up this story . The truth of the matter is : JC , till this day regrets what happen over the Matt Muzikar / Todd Pletcher decision reguarding ( Forcing JC ) to get off his mount of Union Rags for the Loyalty of Todd Pletcher . DO NOT LIE and say ( By His Own Choosing ) ! You kinda helped cover up the truth when you went on to say ( The Decision JC and His Agent MM ) . . . . That was alittle better , but dont lie and say that this was JC Choosing . This was not BY FAR . I am happy that things seemed to work out OK for JC now . I understand that a jockey really depends on is Agent . Actually , it takes everyone to depend on everyone . Loyalty is a plus in any Business - BUT THE KENTUCKY DERBY ! I honestly believe a jockey ought to ride by their Chooosing
Rodney Dangerfield More than 1 year ago
Any one know what time they are drawing the post positions today and is it televised ?
steve szymanski More than 1 year ago
http://www.livestream.com/kyderby Streaming video or NBC Sports Network (Versus)
Rodney Dangerfield More than 1 year ago
Thanks Steve
Brian Taylor More than 1 year ago
It will be televised on NBC Sports Network. I'm not sure if it's 4 or 5 PM EDT.
Rodney Dangerfield More than 1 year ago
Thanks Brian.
MaryAnn Donahue More than 1 year ago
The PP draw begins at 5 EDT on NBC Sports Network.
Jim More than 1 year ago
JJ is a hack. The new Solis. I'll just go wide. Gemologist is now a toss.
DRONAGE23 More than 1 year ago
A hack....are you kidding me, you are waaaaaay off!!!!! Jim, there is no other jockey on the planet I'd rather have right now at this moment. Lets also not forget his prowess on the Lawn, he may be in top 3 yard eaters going the last 2-3 years....and going back 3+ years on the lawn constantly pulling in double digits odds with blue collar trainers, with out the "advantage" of riding for Pletcher nearly as much. "I'll just go wide"...sounds a little sore, perhaps you had Union Rags in the BCJ??
Bill Wolesensky More than 1 year ago
Jim is right, JJ is a wide riding jock. Very good on outside bias courses, such as the turf course at gulf played this year. In traffic, he is a pretty average to below average rider.
Jim More than 1 year ago
Didn't think he could top last years disaster on UR. Well he did at Keeneland in the Makers 46 last month. In a 6 horse field he got boxed in and had to take up twice on the far superior horse. Some guys thrive on the biggest stage. Some don't. He doesn't. He doesn't have the gonads to take chances or go inside when thats his only shot at winning.
Kingsley Rose More than 1 year ago
waiting waiting waiting for horses and then kick on BIG HORSE
Don Passidomo More than 1 year ago
I will be betting the top horse in my opinion, "Gemologist", not the jockey, but it is good to know that JC can get the job done, I hope "Gem" shows him the way
thompson everell More than 1 year ago
Javy is hot as fire and ultra consistant. Cant say Ive seen him make a bad move this year. Next to J.R., this guy is good as it gets
Harvey Savitsky More than 1 year ago
J.R.? Jeremy Rose????
Alan More than 1 year ago
John Velasquez?
Panama Stallion More than 1 year ago
Guessing you mean Joel Rosario or do you mean the character that Larry Hagman played on Dallas? That guy could ride a horse! Or possibly Jim Ross (WWE) that guy could eat a horse. Ahhh you meant Jerry Rice, great wide receiver, fast as a horse or was it Jose "El Puma " Rodriguez famous latin singer of the 80's and 90's. I've seen him riding horses in his videos.