Castellano closes in on first career title

December 22, 2003|by LARRY YANOS

Other than the weather, Maryland-based jockey Abel Castellano Jr. is feeling pretty comfortable these days.

The 20-year-old rider, a native of Venezuela, is closing in on the fall meet title at Laurel Park and is enjoying every minute of it.

"I love to ride, can't worry about the weather," Castellano said. "I'm not used to this cold weather but I'll be OK. I could go to Florida for the winter, but I'm staying here. I'm buying a home. I like the people and it's a good place to live."

He will not see 80-degree weather any time soon but there will be plenty of sunshine with a meet title to his credit.


Castellano is days away from winning his first career riding title. With just a few days of live racing remaining in the 2003 fall meeting, Castellano leads Ramon Dominguez by a wide margin, and Dominguez is on vacation for the rest of the calendar year.

"It is a nice feeling," said Castellano, who rides first call for Michael Gill, the nation's leading owner. "I really didn't expect to win a title this soon in my career, but I have been fortunate to be able to ride a lot of good horses."

During the meet, Castellano has 17 multiple-win days. The Venezuelan took the lead in the standings with a career-best, five-win day on Oct. 18.

"I came to Maryland in April following the Oaklawn Park meet at the suggestion of my agent," Castellano said. "He had been in Maryland before, he was a the agent for Kent Desormeaux and he said he had some good contacts and thought I would do well. I decided to take his advice and I'm glad I did."

Castellano enjoyed varied success at the Pimlico and Laurel Park meets earlier in the year but suddenly caught fire when the fall session got underway at Laurel Park.

"Everything is clicking right now," Castellano said. "I was really disappointed at my showing at Colonial Downs, but I've done much better since returning to racing in Maryland."

Castellano began his race-riding career in 2000 at Gulfstream Park as a 16-year-old and won his first race in March of that year. Since that time, he has ridden at Churchill Downs, Fair Grounds, Keeneland, Calder and Oaklawn, competing against the top riders.

Castellano credits his older brother Javier, a top jockey in New York, and Dominguez, the Mid-Atlantic's best, for assisting his development as a rider.

"My brother is everything to me," said Castellano. "He watches our races when he gets a chance and we talk every day about ways for me to improve. My brother and Ramon are my role models."

State of racing

West Virginia is, indeed, wild and wonderful.

That's the race horse - not the state.

A 2-year-old thoroughbred named West Virginia, a New York-bred colt, won his second stakes victory last Wednesday at the Aqueduct Race Course in New York.

The thoroughbred's owners, Don and Mary Zuckerman, came up with his name after Mary saw the state's motto, "Wild and Wonderful," on a license plate.

The colt's mother's name is Wild and Wonderful.

Pony tales

Charles Town Races & Slots will not conduct live thoroughbred racing on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day but will provide a complete simulcast schedule on Christmas Eve.

  • Gulfstream Park will offer a guaranteed minimum pool of $100,000 for the last Bet 3 on opening day, Jan. 3. The guarantee is believed to be the largest ever offered on a Bet 3 at any track.

    The $100,000 Bet 3 will consist of races nine, 10 and 11 - all $100,000 Grade 3 stakes - on the inaugural card.

    "We believe the large guaranteed pool on the Bet 3, coupled with the high caliber of competition, will prove exciting to our patrons and generate a pool substantially larger than the guaranteed $100,000," said Scott Savin, Gulfstream president and general manager.

  • Voting is underway at the National Thoroughbred Racing Association Web site for the fifth annual "NTRA Moment of the Year."

    Voters can choose from among 10 images, drawn from the year's racing through the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships. Those selecting the winning image automatically will be entered in a random drawing for a grand prize of $1,000. The winning moment will be announced at the Eclipse Award ceremony in Hollywood, Fla, Jan. 26.

    Fans 18 years and older can register to vote online at Entries must be received by 11:59 p.m., Jan. 19.

  • To the thoroughbred racing fans in the Tri-State area, I wish you a merry Christmas and a happy new year.

May Santa bring you some winners for 2004.

Larry Yanos is sports editor of The Daily Mail. He covers horse racing for The Herald-Mail. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2311, or by e-mail at

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