Javier Castellano is widely considered to be the best jockey in the country, and it’s easy to see why. He’s won the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Jockey three straight years, and broke the all-time mark for annual earnings last year (just over $28 million). He hasn’t been out of the top five in wins or earnings since 2011, while riding at (and often taking leading rider honors at) many of the nation’s top race courses.
Per Castellano’s website, he got his start in his native Venezuela in 1996, then quickly moved to the South Florida circuit the following year. Castellano’s first of many wins on U.S. soil came at Calder on July 31, 1997. In 2001, Castellano moved to New York to compete at the NYRA circuit, and that’s when his career really took off. He earned his first Grade I win in Belmont’s Gazelle Stakes aboard Exogenous that same year.
Castellano experienced the national spotlight for the first time while riding the brilliant Ghostzapper. He earned his first ever Breeders’ Cup win when he piloted Ghostzapper to victory in the 2004 Classic at Lone Star Park. His successes haven’t stopped there, as Castellano has recorded 22 in-the-money finishes in the Breeders’ Cup, including five other prestigious wins in the Distaff, Dirt Mile, Filly & Mare Turf, and Juvenile Fillies.
And while the Kentucky Derby may still be eluding the talented rider, Castellano still has success to point to in the Triple Crown series. He won the Preakness Stakes in 2006 aboard Bernardini, and was third in the 2015 edition of the race atop Divining Rod. And Castellano has run second two times in the Belmont Stakes; Stay Thristy was his mount in 2011, while Commissioner was a narrow loser in 2014.
Castellano has even won the Grade I Kentucky Oaks, Churchill Downs’ annual Kentucky Derby eve feature, taking this year’s edition aboard Cathryn Sophia.
Castellano’s peers recognize his immense talent, and have been effusive with praise in the past. “There are a lot of things that make Javier as good as he is,” former jockey Richard Migliore told The Saratogian in 2013, “His athleticism, he has a terrific mind, he sees the race well, he has great reflexes and really good timing.”
Chad Brown, one of the top trainers in the country, also recognizes how talented Castellano is. “He’s very successful because he works hard at it,” Brown told The Saratogian in 2013. “He works on all aspects of his profession from his actual riding skills during a race to pre-race planning and handicapping and studying. He also has a good memory about horses he’s ridden in the past. All of those things make him one of the top jockeys in the country.”
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