05/21/2009 11:00PM

Castro takes advantage of head start


OCEANPORT, N.J. - Eddie Castro flew out of the gate at Monmouth Park, winning with 10 of his first 25 mounts, including a pair of overnight stakes during the first four days of the meet.

It's a terrific start to what could be a fabulous season for Castro.

Jose Lezcano, the leading rider here last summer, opted to remain at Belmont Park. That leaves the door open for Castro, the runner-up the last two years, to capture his first Monmouth title.

"I always try to do my best at this meet," Castro said. "A title would feel good. It's an honor and something for my resume."

Most young riders who succeed at Monmouth eventually move on to bigger circuits, a path blazed in the past by notables such as Chris Antley and Julie Krone.

As some point, Castro will also push on. Not now, not with business booming on the Jersey Shore.

"It's all a matter of having the business and taking the step to New York when the timing is right," agent Mike Gonzalez said. "Right now, New Jersey is a great stop, good money, and good contacts."

A title this summer could be the final springboard for Castro, 24, who has already won a Breeders' Cup race (the Mile aboard Miesque's Approval in 2006) and a Grade 1 stakes at Monmouth, the United Nations Stakes last summer with Presious Passion.

Castro has been on a fast track since arriving in the United States in 2003 from Panama, where he attended jockey school. He won the Eclipse Award that year as the outstanding apprentice rider and has been advancing steadily since then.

Instead of going to Florida, Castro stayed in New York last winter, finishing fourth at the Aqueduct winter meet.

It could be a sign - and the direction - of things to come for Castro.

Hill comes back east from California

The jockey colony at Monmouth this summer is deep in experienced riders, even without Lezcano. Of course, there is Joe Bravo, the riding champion here a record 13 times; Elvis Trujillo, who is also off to a fast start; Stewart Elliott; and Chuckie Lopez - just to name a few.

Channing Hill, the latest addition, arrived Friday morning for a meet-and-greet tour through the barn area with new agent Jim Riccio.

Hill, who had been riding in California after a stint in New York, packed his car after last weekend and drove to New Jersey.

"I got some mounts there, but it was tough to break through," Hill said.

Haskell possibilities on grounds

Musket Man and Big Drama are both resting following their Triple Crown efforts.

And their trainers are both able to exhale with plenty of time until the next objective, possibly the $1 million Haskell Invitational at Monmouth on Aug. 2 for both colts.

Things have been quiet for Derek Ryan following the third-place finishes by Musket Man in the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness. So quiet that Ryan spent a portion of Friday morning watering the flowers outside his barn, loudly warning anyone within earshot to keep their chickens out of his garden.

Musket Man, meanwhile, was off to a nearby farm for a two-week vacation.

"That will give me eight weeks to the Haskell," Ryan said of the Tampa Bay and Illinois Derby winner. "I'll probably work him one time, one mile from the gate, and that will be about it."

Big Drama arrived Sunday at Monmouth, joining the 20-horse division that trainer David Fawkes is running this summer here.

"We're going to let him unwind a little bit, and we'll do a little gate work," Fawkes said with a chuckle.

Big Drama acted up in the gate prior to the start of the Preakness, then bobbled at the break before dueling with eventual winner Rachel Alexandra for the lead. After all that, Big Drama finished fifth, beaten only 5 1/2 lengths.

As for the Haskell, Fawkes said it was under discussion with owner Harold Queen.

"He showed some interest in the Haskell," Fawkes said. "There are some other races. We just haven't made any decisions. We might first look for a little easier spot and build his confidence back up."

Big Drama returned to the track for the first time since the Preakness on Friday morning for an easy jog.