11/04/2006 1:00AM

Castellano gets back up - but can't pull out a win


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Javier Castellano didn't seem to want to get off Bernardini. The other riders all had dismounted after the Breeders' Cup Classic. Losing jockeys were explaining their downfall to trainers, and Invasor, the horse that had just passed Castellano and Bernardini to win the $5 million Classic, was ready to head into the winner's circle. Castellano sat aboard in the twilight, seemingly stunned that his super-horse had lost.

It was not the only loss on Saturday at Churchill for Castellano, one of the sport's bright young stars. Two races earlier, he had been aboard Pine Island, one of the favorites in the Distaff, when she shattered a foreleg. Pine Island had to be euthanized. Castellano hit the ground hard, and looked like he would miss the rest of the day. But after a brief scare, he walked - somewhat gingerly, very dirty - into the jockeys' room, and quickly quashed any rumors that he would take off the Classic's heavy favorite. Then, the horse that some were calling otherworldly, went out and got beat.

"Some days go that way," Castellano said. "At least I can get up and walk away."

Bernardini didn't run like the same horse fans had seen brushing rivals aside on the East Coast. Racing behind the first flight of horses, Castellano appeared to be pushing Bernardini along down the backstretch. In his recent blowouts, Bernardini had won without Castellano moving a muscle.

Did Castellano have to work harder in the Classic just to keep Bernardini in a good spot?

"Yeah, I did," Castellano conceded. "The track is a little funny, and I did have to ask him."

Castellano kept a stone face after his loss: no strong emotions, no elaborate excuses. He said he quickly turned the page after the Pine Island breakdown, focusing on the Classic while he waited in the jockeys' room for the Breeders' Cup to proceed through the Turf, then call the riders for the crowning event.

"You have to change your pace, and look forward again," Castellano said.

And by the half-mile pole in the Classic, Castellano had gotten Bernardini's attention. Now the statuesque bay horse in the maroon Darley silks was picking off horses one by one, making that big move around the far turn. By midstretch he had the lead - but he could not hold it.

"He wanted to go, he wanted to do it," Castellano said. "He just didn't handle the track that well. Still, he gave me everything he had. I'm not disappointed."

Bernardini ran well in defeat, seriously challenged for the first time in his career. But this wasn't his day - or Castellano's.