Updated on 09/15/2011 2:16PM

Distaff: Remember his name


ELMONT, N.Y. - He's known a bit here at Belmont Park, a little better in Miami, but to the rest of the country, Javier Castellano may be the least-known jockey aboard a major contender in the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships .

In a race featuring Hall of Famers Jerry Bailey, Pat Day, Eddie Delahoussaye, Chris McCarron, and Gary Stevens, and local standouts Jorge Chavez, Edgar Prado, and John Velazquez, Castellano will be aboard Exogenous, whose Grade 1 victories in the Gazelle Handicap and Beldame Stakes in her last two starts make her a serious threat to win the $2 million Breeders' Cup Distaff.

Exogenous is Castellano's lone Breeders' Cup mount of the day. It is the first of his career. Although he was a leading rider in Florida for two years before relocating to New York earlier this year, Castellano is a virtual unknown nationally. Most racing fans probably know his name only because he was involved in an inquiry, which was decided in his favor, with Exogenous in the Beldame. Yet Castellano has secured the confidence of trainer Scotty Schulhofer, who believes the 23-year-old jockey is a rising star.

"He'll be along with Prado and Velazquez," Schulhofer said Thursday morning at his Belmont Park barn. "He'll be a top rider here in a year or two."

Castellano picked up the mount on Exogenous before the Alabama Stakes at Saratoga. Schulhofer thought Prado would ride the filly, but when race favorite Flute needed a rider, Prado jumped to her. "I wanted Edgar. I got spun," Schulhofer said. Exogenous finished second to Flute in the Alabama, then beat her in the Beldame.

Schulhofer said he first was urged to use Castellano by Vernon Heath, whose Centaur Farms bred and owns Exogenous. "Mr. Heath races in Florida, and thought Javier was about the best rider there," Schulhofer said.

Castellano comes from a racing family. His father, Abel, was a jockey, as was an uncle. His younger brother, Abel Jr., 18, now rides in Florida, where Castellano's mother and sister now live. His father, who retired in 1997, just a few months after Castellano started riding there, was murdered last year in Venezuela during an attempted carjacking. After Castellano wins a race, he gestures toward the sky, in tribute to his father, when he enters the winner's circle.

Castellano had never been to the United States before arriving in Miami in June 1997 from his native Maracaibo, Venezuela. He did not know any English. Among the few people he knew here was Omar Vizquel, the shortstop for the Cleveland Indians, a friend from Venezuela.

"Trainers would give me instructions. I would say, 'Okay, okay, okay,' but I didn't know what they were saying," Castellano said Thursday morning. "If I had ridden the horse before, I would remember from the paper. If I would win, everybody would be happy. But if I lost, they'd say, 'What happened?' I didn't know what to say."

His English, and his riding skills, improved while in Florida. Castellano was the leading rider at the Tropical-at-Calder meetings in 1999 and 2000, and was second to Eibar Coa at the main Calder meetings in both 1999 and 2000. He won six races on one card on Dec. 31, 2000, at Calder. Castellano is naturally light - he carries just 109 pounds on his five-foot frame - and he has an agreeable, bright countenance. "He's a good little rider," Schulhofer said. "He got a little overanxious in the Beldame, but he learned a lesson."

Castellano was lured to New York in January by jockey agent Steve Adika, whose greatest success came with Mike Smith during the 1990's. Smith won eight Breeders' Cup races while Adika was his agent. Adika said he spent two years trying to recruit Castellano to move to New York.

"My first year in New York, I have been very lucky," Castellano said. "Sometimes this business is not easy. I like it up here. It is a good experience. I'm very happy, very excited, to be riding in my first Breeders' Cup."

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