09/14/2004 11:00PM

Castellano gets his big horse

Javier Castellano will ride Ghostzapper in the Breeders' Cup.

ELMONT, N.Y. - Last fall, Javier Castellano rode a horse he thought was going to change his life. Right season, wrong horse.

When Castellano guided Eurosilver to victory in the Lane's End Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland last Oct. 4, he started dreaming about roses and the first Saturday in May. It wasn't to be, as Eurosilver developed a glandular infection in April and was forced off the Triple Crown trail.

"I thought I missed out on the opportunity of my life," Castellano said during a recent interview.

A week before the Breeders' Futurity, Castellano had ridden Ghostzapper to a most impressive victory in the Grade 1 Vosburgh at Belmont Park. Nice win to be sure, but Castellano - and everybody else for that matter - had no idea what lay ahead.

Six weeks from now, Castellano will take a seat aboard Ghostzapper in the $4 million Breeders' Cup Classic at Lone Star Park in Texas with a second chance at an opportunity of a lifetime.

Castellano's victory aboard Ghostzapper in last Saturday's Grade 1 Woodward - and two more stakes victories on Sunday - capped a fantastic week for the 26-year-old Venezuela native. The week began on Labor Day when Castellano won five races on the closing-day card at Saratoga. It ended with Castellano atop the Belmont rider standings with five victories.

Castellano, who recently married Abby Meyocks - daughter of Terry Meyocks, former president of the New York Racing Association - hopes to keep the momentum going this weekend when he rides contenders in several of Belmont's six graded stakes. His top mounts include Coded Warning in Saturday's Grade 2 Jerome, Graceful Nancy in Sunday's Grade 1 Matron for juvenile fillies, and Park Avenue Ball in Sunday's Grade 2 Futurity.

Castellano has never ridden in a Breeders' Cup race. He made it as far as the post parade of the 2001 Distaff before Exogenous flipped over, unseating Castellano and hitting her head hard on the ground. Exogenous was scratched from the race and would die a few days later from head trauma. She had given Castellano his first two career Grade 1 wins that fall.

Castellano has been riding in this country only since 1997. He started his career in Florida, and in the winter of 2001 moved his tack to New York at the behest of agent Steve Adika. Castellano enjoyed success early on, finishing as the sixth-leading rider in New York that year. In 2002, Castellano was the second-leading rider, and last year he was third. Through Wednesday, Castellano ranked as the second-leading rider on this circuit with 153 wins in New York, five behind John Velazquez.

In July 2003, Castellano hired former trainer Mike Kelly to be his agent. Castellano credits Kelly with much of his success in the past 14 months, and also for lending emotional support when things didn't go well. For example, Castellano was disappointed when he lost the mount on the promising 2-year-old Scipion for the Cradle Stakes after being aboard for his maiden win on Aug. 14. Trainer Patrick Biancone went back to his go-to rider, Edgar Prado. Scipion finished third in the Cradle on Labor Day, while Castellano won five races at Saratoga.

"I wasn't mad, not at all," Castellano said. "It's a business. It surprised me because he won impressively, but I wasn't mad. It worked out pretty good. Mike told me everything happens for a reason."

When trainer Bobby Frankel said that Ghostzapper would be headed straight for the Breeders' Cup, some wondered if Castellano would retain the mount. Frankel's two main riders, Jerry Bailey and Prado, are already committed to Pleasantly Perfect and Birdstone, respectively, in the Classic. John Velazquez, who won a Breeders' Cup race for Frankel in 2002, is scheduled to ride Roses in May on Saturday in Kentucky and again in the Classic.

Given the success Castellano and Ghostzapper have had together - six wins from seven starts - Frankel said he wouldn't make a change anyway.

"I'd have more confidence with him on this horse than with anybody else right now," Frankel said. "If he had tried to take back and lay behind the speed the other day, he probably would have gotten beat."

His success in New York this year and his strong ties with Frankel, Nick Zito, and Stanley Hough have Castellano thinking of riding next winter at Gulfstream. Castellano said no decision has been made in that regard, but he is anxious to try.

"It's hard to say right now," Castellano said. "Gulfstream's not ready yet, and who knows what's going on. I would like to go there someday. I don't know if it's this year or next year."

Winter can wait. For the second straight fall, Castellano senses the opportunity of a lifetime.