08/04/2017 2:56PM

Three jocks hit wire together in Hall induction

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Barbara D. Livingston
Javier Castellano is surrounded by Hall of Fame members and presenters Ramon Dominguez, left, and John Velazquez.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – As he stood on a stage here Friday morning, newly minted Hall of Fame jockey Victor Espinoza joked that he had “nothing but bad memories” of the town and the historic racetrack.

“Finally, I get to take one good memory today,” Espinoza said.

Jockey Javier Castellano, sitting in the front row, a few feet from Espinoza, laughed, no doubt remembering the 2015 Travers Stakes, where Castellano piloted Keen Ice past Triple Crown winner American Pharoah and Espinoza for one of Castellano’s record five victories in Saratoga’s signature race.

The moment was one of many at this year’s National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame induction ceremony encapsulating the dual nature of race riding – jockeys, who share a locker room with their opponents, are at once fierce rivals and friendly colleagues. Three members of that brotherhood were in the metaphorical winner’s circle together, as Castellano, Espinoza, and the late Garrett Gomez took their places in the Hall. The three men were among nine humans and equines enshrined in this year’s induction ceremony at Fasig-Tipton’s Humphrey S. Finney Pavilion.

Castellano, 39, is the four-time reigning Eclipse Award winner, having taken over that title from the retired Ramon Dominguez, who had won it the three previous years. Dominguez, inducted into the Hall of Fame last year, and John Velazquez, inducted in 2012, presented Castellano for induction. All three are perennial leaders on the intensely competitive but tightly knit New York circuit.

“You both are two people that I respect and look up to,” Castellano said. “Johnny, the work you do with the Jockeys’ Guild is amazing. We all thank you for your hard work. Ramon, you have always been someone that I look up to. The respect you have from people throughout the industry is a quality that is not easy to achieve. I appreciate our friendship, and I always look up to you guys.”

Castellano owns the single-season record for mount earnings by a rider at more than $28.1 million in 2015. He ranks fifth all time in career earnings, and his major victories include two editions of the Preakness Stakes – in 2006 aboard the champion Bernardini and this year on Cloud Computing. His other prominent mounts included Hall of Famer Ghostzapper, with whom he won the 2004 Breeders’ Cup Classic to clinch a Horse of the Year title.

Espinoza, 45, piloted American Pharoah to a sweep of the Triple Crown in 2015, the first in 37 years. He was aboard the champion for all but his first start, winning five other Grade 1 events with him, including the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Espinoza was also the regular rider of two-time Horse of the Year California Chrome, who won the 2014 Kentucky Derby and Preakness and 2016 Dubai World Cup, and 2002 Derby and Preakness winner War Emblem. After recapping those highlights, Espinoza offered advice to aspiring riders.

“For all you young jockeys who are coming in, never give up,” he said.

The absence of Gomez, who died in December at age 44, was keenly felt.

“This is a little hard,” the jockey’s father, Louie Gomez, said as he stepped to the mic.

“He was born to be a racetracker,” he said of his son.

Gomez, a two-time Eclipse Award winner, won 13 Breeders’ Cup races, including the 2010 Classic with Blame, defeating the previously unbeaten Zenyatta. He won four races on the program in 2008, taking the Sprint with Midnight Lute, the Juvenile with Midshipman, the Filly and Mare Sprint with Ventura, and the Dirt Mile with Albertus Maximus.

“I want you all to know that he remembered every winning horse that he ever rode,” Gomez’s daughter Amanda said.

Rounding out the contemporary inductees was European Horse of the Year and multiple Eclipse Award winner Goldikova, whose connections were unable to attend the ceremony from overseas. The mare is owned by brothers Alain and Gerard Wertheimer and was trained by former riding great Freddy Head to three consecutive victories in the Breeders’ Cup Mile. She was the first ever to win three Breeders’ Cup races, an accomplishment matched only by future Hall of Famer Beholder.

Goldikova won 11 other Group 1 races, including the Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot and four editions of the Prix Rothschild in France.

Fittingly, in Goldikova’s induction year, John Gaines, the driving force behind the creation of the Breeders’ Cup, was one of three industry influences inducted as “Pillars of the Turf,” along with Ogden Mills “Dinny” Phipps and Matt Winn. Gaines, who died in 2005 at age 76, was also a prominent breeder and developer of stallions through his Gainesway Farm.

“Much has been recollected over the years about the difficulties and challenges my father faced gaining industry-wide acceptance for his idea of the Breeders’ Cup,” Thomas Gaines said of his late father’s legacy. “I’ve thought about it a lot over the years, and I’ve come to believe that the best ideas with the most power to transform are met with widespread resistance.

“The Breeders’ Cup exists. I know everyone in this room has a favorite race, a favorite course, a favorite finish from a Breeders’ Cup race seared into our memory.”

Phipps, who died last year at 75, was the longtime chairman of The Jockey Club. Through his family’s prolific breeding and racing program, he campaigned many champions trained by Shug McGaughey, who was one of several Hall of Fame members in attendance Friday.

“Dad wouldn’t have gotten here today without you,” Phipps’s son Ogden Phipps II said, looking out at McGaughey from the stage.

Winn, who died in 1949 at age 88, raised the profile and popularity of the Kentucky Derby as president of Churchill Downs, setting it on the path to becoming America’s marquee race. Great-grandson Richard Herrmann thanked Churchill Downs employees for their work with the race.

“They have done a tremendous job of nurturing and growing the Kentucky Derby that Col. Winn had such high hopes for and such high standards for,” Herrmann said.

Steeplechase inductee Good Night Shirt, owned for the majority of his career by Harold A. “Sonny” Via Jr. and trained by Jack Fisher, was the Eclipse Award champion steeplechase horse of 2007 and 2008.

Also inducted was the late trainer Tom Voss, who died at age 63 in 2014. The five-time National Steeplechase Association leader by wins and three-time leader in earnings trained competitors such as Eclipse Award-winning steeplechaser Slip Away. His best flat-racing horse was the multiple Grade 1 winner John’s Call. That gelding later became his stable pony at the track.

“This wasn’t supposed to go like this,” Eclipse Award-winning writer Joe Clancy said in presenting Voss for induction, expressing feelings of loss that the trainer was another posthumous inductee. “He would have come up here and told a half-funny, half-grouchy speech.”

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