Homeracing

Kentucky Derby Jockey Profile: Javier Castellano

Profile Picture: J. Keeler Johnson

April 29th, 2021

Who is Javier Castellano?

Ask a handful of racing fans to name the most dominant North American jockeys of the 2010s, and you can bet the majority will single out Javier Castellano.

Castellano’s recent success has been built on a sturdy foundation. The 43-year-old rider from Venezuela won his first U.S. race in 1997 and enjoyed a handful of noteworthy triumphs during the ensuing decade. In 2004, he guided Ghostzapper through a perfect 4-for-4 Horse of the Year campaign, culminating with a victory in the 1 1/4-mile Breeders’ Cup Classic. Two years later, he won the Preakness (G1) aboard champion Bernardini.

But beginning in 2011—when he won 11 Grade 1 races in a single season—Castellano elevated his game to a new level. He led all North American jockeys by earnings every year from 2013-16 and won four Eclipse Awards for Outstanding Jockey during the same timeframe. He won 11 more Breeders’ Cup races between 2012 and 2019, nabbed the 2017 Preakness aboard Cloud Computing, and became a Hall of Fame inductee in 2017.

With more than 5,300 victories and over $356 million in earnings, Castellano ranks among the most accomplished jockeys in the history of the sport. But one of racing’s most coveted prizes—the 1 1/4-mile Kentucky Derby (G1) over the Churchill Downs dirt—has proven elusive for Castellano. This is surprising when you consider how Castellano’s excellent 21-for-137 (15%) lifetime record riding 1 1/4 miles on dirt is dotted with Grade 1 wins, including six editions of the historic Travers (G1).

In November 2020, Castellano underwent arthroscopic hip surgery and missed three months of riding as a result. But he hasn’t missed a beat since returning to action, compiling a solid 20% win rate in 2021. Best of all, Castellano came back just in time to retain the mount on Blue Grass (G2) runner-up Highly Motivated, a promising colt set to give Castellano his 12th consecutive ride (and 15th overall) in the Kentucky Derby.


What are Jockey Javier Castellano's Records related to the Kentucky Derby?

Below are statistics for Castellano's efforts at race tracks with more than two Road to the Kentucky Derby prep races, plus lifetime data at the 1 1/4 mile distance and Churchill Downs specifically.

Track
Up ArrowDown Arrow
Starts
Up ArrowDown Arrow
Wins
Up ArrowDown Arrow
Places
Up ArrowDown Arrow
Thirds
Up ArrowDown Arrow
Win %
Up ArrowDown Arrow
ITM %
Up ArrowDown Arrow
ROI %
Up ArrowDown Arrow
Earnings
Up ArrowDown Arrow
Aqueduct
260
48
56
41
18%
56%
-28%
$4,324,719
Churchill Downs
94
14
17
12
15%
46%
-36%
$3,863,636
Fair Grounds
23
3
2
3
13%
35%
-39%
$472,450
Gulfstream Park
559
108
105
86
19%
53%
-33%
$11,958,988
Keeneland
174
43
36
22
25%
58%
-9%
$5,254,621
Oaklawn Park
34
6
3
9
18%
53%
-14%
$1,324,447
Santa Anita
33
4
7
4
12%
45%
-62%
$3,000,936
Tampa Bay Downs
19
5
3
4
26%
63%
35%
$545,925
Turfway Park
N/A
N/A
N/A
N/A
N/A
N/A
N/A
N/A

Lifetime record over 1 1/4 miles on dirt:

Starts Wins Places Thirds
137 21 22 17
  Win % ITM % ROI %
  15% 44% -18%

Lifetime record in the Kentucky Derby:

Starts Wins Places Thirds
14 0 0 1
  Win % ITM % ROI %
  0% 7% -100%

Lifetime record stats compiled by Ed DeRosa and are through 2020.

All stats from Jan. 1, 2016 through April 20, 2021. Generated by STATSMASTER, Powered by TrackMaster, an Equibase Company


To get up to speed on how Castellano has been riding in recent years (and to gauge how he might fare in the Kentucky Derby), let’s review his record from 2016 onward in dirt races at a handful of major tracks:

Castellano at Aqueduct

At one time or another, Castellano has won seemingly every race of note at Aqueduct, where he strikes at an 18% rate. Just since 2016, Castellano has won the Cigar Mile (G1) twice and the Carter H. (G1) once, demonstrating his skill riding high-class sprints and miles. But Castellano is also a two-time winner of the 1 1/8-mile Wood Memorial (G2) on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, most notably guiding Bellamy Road to a record 17 1/2-length triumph in 2005.

Castellano at Churchill Downs

Results over the Churchill Downs dirt have been a bit mixed for Castellano. His best finish from 14 rides in the Kentucky Derby is a third from Audible in 2018, and his 15% win rate is a little light. But Castellano has also nabbed some very big prizes over the last five years, including the 2016 Kentucky Oaks (G1) aboard Cathryn Sophia and the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) aboard City of Light.

Castellano at Fair Grounds

Castellano’s infrequent trips to Fair Grounds since 2016 have unsurprisingly coincided with Road to the Kentucky Derby prep races. His 3-for-23 (13%) record over the main track during this timeframe isn’t overly eye-catching, though Castellano did win the 2018 Lecomte (G3) aboard Instilled Regard.

Castellano at Gulfstream Park

Between the end of 2011 and the spring of 2016, no jockey enjoyed more success at Gulfstream than Javier Castellano, who reigned as the leading rider at five consecutive Championship Meets. He doesn’t ride quite as often at Gulfstream these days, but his 19% win rate on dirt is solid, with a victory in the 2019 Pegasus World Cup (G1) aboard City of Light ranking as a major highlight.

Castellano has also won each of Gulfstream’s Road to the Kentucky Derby prep races at least once, including the 2014 Florida Derby (G1), the 2017 Fountain of Youth (G2), and the 2012 and 2018 editions of the Holy Bull (G3).

Castellano at Keeneland

Keeneland has been kind to Castellano, who has compiled an excellent 43-for-174 (25%) resume over the main track since 2016. Wins in the Ashland (G1), Madison (G1), and Alcibiades (G1) feature prominently in Castellano’s recent highlight reel, along with a victory aboard Vekoma in the 2019 Blue Grass (G2).

Castellano was the leading jockey by wins at both the 2015 and 2016 Keeneland spring meets, and at the 2015 Breeders’ Cup, he scored a lucrative double with Stopchargingmaria in the Distaff (G1) and Liam’s Map in the Dirt Mile (G1).

Castellano at Oaklawn Park

Over the past five years, Castellano has compiled a respectable 6-for-34 (18%) record at Oaklawn Park. His lone stakes win came aboard Malagacy, who parlayed pace-tracking tactics into a comfortable victory in the 2017 Rebel (G2).

Castellano at Santa Anita

You might be wondering, how has Castellano won more than $3 million over the Santa Anita main track since 2016, even though he’s only won four races? The answer is simple: Castellano has saved his victories for big days. In 2017, he won the 1 1/4-mile Santa Anita H. (G1) aboard Shaman Ghost. In 2018, he guided Bolt d’Oro to a win in the San Felipe (G2) and a runner-up effort in the Santa Anita Derby (G1). And in 2019, he claimed the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) aboard champion British Idiom. Castellano’s 12% win rate might not be eye-catching, but he’s made those winners count.

Castellano at Tampa Bay Downs

When Castellano makes a trip to Tampa Bay Downs, you can bet he’ll walk away with a stakes win (or two, or three). All five of his victories over the Tampa main track since 2016 have come in stakes, including a victory aboard Destin in the 2016 Tampa Bay Derby (G2).

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