On Breeders’ Cup Friday, the star wasn’t a horse or a trainer.
It was jockey Javier Castellano.
Castellano picked up two wins in the four races held on Day 1 of the Breeders’ Cup, and certainly didn’t have an easy ride either time.
In the featured attraction of the day, the Distaff, Castellano was on board Stopchargingmaria – a serious contender in a race thrown wide open by the scratch of defending champion Untapable. While not the fastest horse, according to speed figures, Stopchargingmaria had the big advantage coming into the race of being versatile. She won the Grade-3 DuPont Distaff in May from well off the lead, then came back in August to win the Grade-3 Shuvee Handicap by racing at the front.
In her last race, the Grade-1 Personal Ensign, she got into a speed duel with Untapable and they both faded down the stretch, with Sheer Drama and Got Lucky finishing 1-2. Even with Untapable sidelined on Friday, Castellano knew he couldn’t afford to burn her out a second straight time.
“When I handicapped the race, I saw how much early speed there was in the field, so I knew I had to stay back off the pace,” he said on NBCSN after the race. “I got onto the rail and was able to save ground around both turns, and then I just followed Wedding Toast when she made her move.”
When the field hit the top of the stretch, Castellano and Stopchargingmaria were six lanes wide in what looked like a quarter-horse sprint, but the 38-year-old and the 4-year-old had timed their move perfectly. They quickly pulled away from the early leaders and held off a charge from Stellar Wind to win the $2 million purse.
That wasn’t even Castellano’s most impressive ride of the day. In the $1 million Dirt Mile, he was riding the odds-on favorite, Liam’s Map. Coming off a win in the Grade-1 Woodward, and with five wins and two seconds in seven career starts, winning the race itself wasn’t all that impressive. Liam’s Map probably belonged in Saturday’s Classic, but Todd Pletcher and owner Teresa Viola had decided to start him on Friday to avoid a speed duel with American Pharoah on Saturday.
However, instead of going to the lead out of the gate, Liam’s Map was left standing still when the doors opened. Once he got going, he was bumped by another colt and Castellano had to hustle to get him to the rail, where he was trapped behind a wall of horses.
At the top of the stretch, Lea appeared to have the race wrapped up, but Castellano found a gap, and Liam’s Map accelerated in impressive fashion. He not only passed Lea, but won the race by 2 1/2 lengths.
In the first Breeders’ Cup race of the day, jockey Ryan Moore and trainer Aidan O’Brien came over from Europe to take home another trophy as Hit It A Bomb rallied down the stretch to win the $1 million Juvenile Turf race.
Catch a Glimpse stalked Ruby Notion and then pulled away down the stretch to win the $1 million Juvenile Filly Turf race.