01/03/2011 12:05PM

Castellano sets his sights on Gulfstream riding title

Adam Coglianese/NYRA
Among the highlights of 2010 for Javier Castellano was his nose victory aboard Afleet Express (on rail) in the Travers.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – A new year means a new beginning. Not that Javier Castellano had a bad 2010; not at all. But the 33-year-old jockey would like for the infamous winner’s circle brawl at the Breeders’ Cup to get farther and farther in the proverbial rear-view mirror, and the passage of time is the best way for that to occur.

“I didn’t expect that to happen,” said Castellano. “All my life, I’ve gotten along with everyone. If I do something wrong, I apologize. Then I move forward.”

As the Gulfstream Park meet gets under way Wednesday, bringing with it all the usual intimations of a fresh start, few jockeys in North America occupy a more enviable position than Castellano. Notwithstanding the endlessly You-Tubed dust-up with Calvin Borel following the Nov. 5 BC Marathon at Churchill Downs, and the six-day suspension that Castellano served in its aftermath, the 2010 racing season perpetuated the steady ascent that Castellano has experienced since he migrated from his native Venezuela in 1997. Perhaps most importantly, his attitude is a mix of atonement, gratefulness, and optimism, and he is very much looking forward to Gulfstream 2011 and beyond.

“I am so happy,” Castellano said on a recent morning at Gulfstream after working a horse for trainer Barclay Tagg. “I thank God that I am really doing so good. I have no complaints. I give a lot of credit to my agent, Matt Muzikar, and my former agent, Mike Kelly, and all the owners and trainers who give me their support. I very much appreciate them all.”

In 2010, Castellano won 246 races, with mount earnings of just more than $13 million, sixth most on the continent and second-most in his career. Since he made the New York circuit his primary focus nearly 10 years ago, his numbers have been remarkably consistent, with mount earnings surpassing $12 million in six of the last seven years, increasing his career total to more than $125 million. His top career wins include the 2004 BC Classic aboard Ghostzapper, the 2005 Dubai Golden Shaheen on Saratoga County, and the 2006 Preakness with Bernardini. In 2010, he won the Grade 1 Travers on Afleet Express and the Grade 1 Flower Bowl on Ave, along with 13 other graded stakes.

At Gulfstream, Castellano once again will be among the most sought-after riders in a very deep and talented colony. Last year, before leaving the meet a month early for Keeneland, Castellano was the leading jockey when he rode his 50th winner on March 24, although Paco Lopez pulled away late amidst the depleted colony to easily win with 74.

At Saratoga last summer, Castellano had a breakthrough meet when part of a three-way battle for top honors, ultimately finishing three wins behind John Velazquez and eight ahead of Ramon Dominguez.

“One of my goals when I came from my country was to be leading rider at a big track like Gulfstream,” Castellano said. “It’s my goal this year again, even though I will leave early. Maybe I can get 10 or 15 wins ahead and hold on.”

His colleagues, of course, will be doing their best to keep that from happening. Elvis Trujillo, second in the standings here the last two years, said: “I want to move up. I want to be the leader at Gulfstream.”

To do so would be quite the commendable feat, considering the regulars here will once again include Lopez, Velazquez, Rajiv Maragh, Julien Leparoux, Kent Desormeaux, Edgar Prado, Alan Garcia, Jose Lezcano, Eibar Coa, Jesus Castanon, Joe Bravo, Alex Solis, and Manoel Cruz.

Leparoux, the 2009 Eclipse winner, has had a handful of mounts since taking nearly a month-long break after dominating the Churchill fall meet.

“We’re fresh and we’re well prepared,” said his agent, Steve Bass. “It’s never easy at Gulfstream, with all the great riders that come here, but I’m very happy with the way our business is shaping up.”