Tag Archives: Javier Castellano

Arbitrary Thoughts from the Miz

The Travers

I don’t think anyone was surprised at how the Travers played out down the stretch. The speed failing and the closer coming. Wicked Strong gobbling up the fading Tonalist and heading toward the wire, until V.E. Day came flying up his side. The look on Rajiv Maragh’s face was priceless. It was a look of disbelief and prayer at the same time. “No! Come on wire! Come on wire!” I’m sure Rajiv was counting on galloping back Wicked Strong right into the Winner’s Circle, but it was a mistake to be that confident with Javier “The Gift” Castellano still in the race. While all the attention was focused on the big three, V.E. Day came closing … quickly. On NBC’s coverage of the Travers, Randy Moss called Irad Ortiz, Jr. “the hottest jockey on the planet right now.” I disagree, Mr. Moss. Javier Castellano is the hottest (and most consistent) jockey on the planet. His Eclipse-award winning year in 2013 was only the beginning.

A Not-So Shared Belief

Hold your horses everybody, just hold your horses. I disagreed with Randy Moss regarding his reference to the hottest jockey on the planet, but was pleased when he pulled the reins on engaging in the Shared Belief v. California Chrome debate on NBC’s broadcast on Sunday from Del Mar. It’s just too early to be comparing Shared Belief and Cali Chrome and I couldn’t agree more. However, the trash-talking between Coburn and Rome should be entertaining … in an extremely arrogant and annoying way.

Parting Ways

We are sad to see Track Superintendent Javier Barajas leave the Canterbury Family but wish him well in his new position at Keeneland.

We are also sad to say goodbye to jockey Scott Stevens who will not be returning to Canterbury Park next year. Scott suffered a compound fracture to his wrist when his horse stumbled and unseated him a few weeks ago. Scott will be returning to his home in Phoenix and hopes to be riding at Turf Paradise when the meet opens in early October. We will miss Scott very much. He has been a mentor to many young jocks at Canterbury. Truly, a class act.

Scott Stevens on Broadway Empire
Scott Stevens on Broadway Empire

A Band of Brothers

The Canterbury Family extends from the brass to the paddock. It’s something that I love most about our track. There’s something so wonderful about being home and the family feel at Canterbury Park. We have two sets of brothers that are jockeys: Jacob and Jordan Olesiak and Alex and Patrick Canchari. We also have the brother/sister riding team of Nik and Chamisa Goodwin. And, the top tiers at Canterbury are mostly members of the Sampson family.

Alex Can’t-chari

This kid just can’t get a break. He’s tied with Ry Eikleberry for the riding title and he manages to get himself suspended for seven days with only three weeks left in the meet. (He’ll be back riding August 30.) Same thing happened last year and he came back to win 5 in one day but still fell two short of Dean Butler. I could go on all day about how the steward’s try to keep Canchari in check. I feel like he could sneeze and they’d bring him up on days. Alex must have a chair with his name on it in the stew’s office, and it’s probably a metal folding chair facing the wall. A horse owner at Canterbury once said to me, “Alex Canchari rides horses like he stole ‘em.” You know what? I’m very okay with that. I want to see the jockeys trying to win, not galloping around in a circle. I believe it’s called a horse race, not a pony ride.

The Velazquez Factor

This year, I discovered a very useful handicapping technique. It’s called the Velazquez Factor. When Denny Velazquez is in a race, the race unfolds in an unexpected fashion. He can ride (and win) in the mud, rain, weather conditions don’t seem to bother him and he seems to be the one bringing down the favorite. When I handicap a race, I always try to find a beatable favorite and in most cases, Velazquez has the mount on the long shot to do it. On Saturday, August 23, Denny Velazquez was on #11 Parading Gold, a Prairie Meadows shipper. Unfortunately, Parading Gold broke down during the race. Denny was taken to Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis for observation of the injuries he sustained during the accident. Denny spent the night in the hospital and underwent surgery on Sunday morning to repair a lacerated spleen. The 20-year old rider was having the best meet of his young career at Canterbury. Why does this sport have to be to so humbling? The Racing Gods giveth, and with abrupt cruelty, taketh away.

Denny Velazquez
Denny Velazquez

The Bounce

It’s not just for racehorses. As a handicapper, sometimes you win and sometimes you lose so badly you are grateful to be somewhat anonymous! Thursday was an epic disaster for most of the handicappers at Canterbury. We were challenged to do better the following night. Arriving at the park on Friday night with the proverbial “cone of shame,” I was able to redeem myself to some extent. On Saturday, however, I came to life with the trifecta box in the first, the superfecta box in the second and two winners on the night as well as a scattering of place/show horses. I think we just draw a line through Thursday and move on.

Playing by the Numbers

It’s true that most patrons at the track are win/place/show bettors. I rarely bump into people who play the Pick 3 or Pick 4 (as those bets require more research than the occasional racing fan is willing to do), and find myself explaining an exotic wager several times throughout the day. I notice the odds board after the track handicappers’ selections go up. The odds are almost immediately affected, which means the betting public is paying attention to what we say. But we are not the horse, nor the jockey, nor the trainer. What I do to the best of my ability using the tools available to me, observations at the track and researching past performances is provide the top three horses that I feel have a chance of hitting the board. The betting public can do with those numbers what they want. All I can do is put my skills to use to give the bettor a chance at winning some money and having a fun day at the track. I always look for long shots when researching a race. Nothing is more exciting for a patron then to catch the 30-1 at the wire. (That’s the kind of thrill that brings them back to the track.) If there is a playable long shot and a beatable favorite, you will see the long shot in my top three. I may be the only one out of the four handicappers with that horse, and it may look silly to some, but if you bet the favorite every race, you might go home with your admission paid for and maybe cover the beers you had too. But if I can find a payable long shot with a chance and it hits … you’ll be back the next day. People play the favorites because they’re safe, there’s little risk but it’s the thrill of cashing that big ticket that they brag about.

When I’m at the track I talk to everyone; handicappers, owners, trainers, jockeys, track brass, as well as the betting public. There are educated racing fans out there and then there are just plain buffoons. Since I am relatively anonymous as the track, I have heard people comment on my selections. My selections are simply numbers on the board. They don’t come with explanation. Once, I even overheard someone call me as a “stupid bitch.” That one is my favorite. It makes me fight harder to prove myself as a credible handicapper. Credibility and respect are not given, they’re earned. What softens the blow of criticism is that I’ve also heard people say, “She must know something I don’t.”

If you think you can do better …

I hate it when I hear people cursing at the jockeys. Grow up! The best jockey in the country can be on the best horse and it just simply won’t be his day. It happens all the time. Unfortunately, we cannot (nor should we) count on the unpredictability of the animal or the jockey. What we have to do is focus on what the horse CAN do. Jockeys are given instructions in the paddock from the trainers prior to the race. Often times, they work the horses in the morning. What we look for in past performances is whether or not the jockey has ridden the horse in prior races. As horseplayers, consistency is our bread and butter. I don’t shy away from horses that consistently finish second or third, those are payable trifecta horses – and “payable” is the magic word!

Conversations and Observations

I spoke with trainer Miguel Silva who told me he was not taking horses to Turf Paradise this year. Instead, he’s heading to Tampa Bay (via Hawthorne).

It’s been a relatively wet summer in Iowa and the Prairie Meadows horses and riders have been racing in some challenging conditions. They must be grateful for the dry conditions in Minnesota since the Prairie Meadows shippers are winning … often … at Canterbury Park. The shippers from our south have arrived with the intentions of being spoilers, and they are succeeding.

Coming Up Roses

With a mere 70 days until the Kentucky Derby, thoughts are turning toward the 20 three year olds who will make up the all-star cast on the first Saturday in May.  Two stakes races on Saturday, February 22, have the biggest Derby points thus far going towards the winners – the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream and the Risen Star at Fair Grounds.  The winners of each race will receive 50 points towards getting in the starting gate at Churchill Downs.

Trainers have shipped in some of the best equine pilots from Santa Anita to take mounts at Fair Grounds, and we anxiously wait to see if a star will emerge from the shadow of big name runners like Top Billing and Ria Antonia.  Could it be Medal Count, Intense Holiday, Rise Up, Almost Famous or General a Rod? We shall see in a few short hours.

Gulfstream:

Fountain of Youth (Gr. II) 3 year olds:  I’m a huge fan of Joel Rosario but he better not ride Top Billing the way he did Strong Mandate, or we’re gonna have a problem.  If Top Billing gets a bad trip, I think Commissioner will come up and steal it.  I’m curious to see Almost Famous run, but don’t like the jockey on this colt.  After Luis Saez lost the Donn Handicap to Lea, I’m wondering if he’s ready.  If he can ride Wildcat Red with confidence, I’m willing to put Wildcat Red on my Derby list.  It’s a bold statement, I know.  Javier Castellano is certainly ready for a trip to Churchill Downs and he’s on General a Rod for Mike Maker.

Davona Dale (Gr. II) 3year old:  Todd Pletcher has two, Stopcharginmaria and Onlyforyou, and they’re both good, but Catalano’s Aurelia’s Belle could be the spoiler.  I’ll take Javier Castellano on the Pletcher horse Onlyforyou, which I’ve gone to before.  The Darley Stables’ owned Penwith is the McLaughlin runner and I’ll take her too.

Canadian Turf (Gr. III) non-3s:  I really like Reload in this one, Castellano again, this time for Shug McGaughey.  However, Joel Rosario is on two good ones at Gulfstream, Top Billing in the Fountain of Youth, and the entry here, Bad Debt, for Trombetta. I’m torn for the show spot with Unbridled Ocean and Joha.

Fair Grounds:

Rachel Alexander (Gr. III) 3 year olds:  Streaming.  It’s Steaming.  Good pedigree on this horse (Smart Strike – Teeming, by Storm Cat), and good past perfs.  Three for three in career starts at hitting the board, two of them in Grade I company, including a win in the Hollywood Starlet and second in the Las Virgenes.  Martin Garcia keeps the mount for Bob Baffert.

Got Lucky is also 3/3 in career starts including a win in the Demoiselle (Gr. II) at Aqueduct.  She has the pedigree – daughter of A.P. Indy, and the connections, Hall of Fame jockey, Mike Smith, and trainer Todd Pletcher.

Of course Ria Antonia’s “win” in the Breeders’ Cup brings the most attention to this filly.  Regardless of the infamous bump, she is still a decent runner and deserves respect.  She gets the gutsy Joe Talamo this time around.  Her usually pilot, Castellano, is in Gulfstream.  Talamo is a different kind of rider, not afraid to take risks down the stretch.  I’m anxious to see how it plays out.

Risen Star (Grade II) 3 year olds:  It sure got interesting with the scratch of Bond Holder.  I’m looking for horses to dominate.  I have not completed my Derby list.  I’m waiting to see if a horse in this race steps up. I know the focus is on Vicar’s in Trouble, Intense Holiday, and Gold Hawk, but I’m watching two others:  Rise Up and Son of a Preacher.  As they say in racing, a horse could “come out of the clouds” and win, and in this case take the Derby points too.  I’m hoping the Amoss colt can Rise Up and do just that!

Of note – Non-Three Year Old Stakes Races:

Bayou Handicap:  Oh, geez, there’s that horse Eden Prairie again!  The filly sticks with regular rider Rosie Napravnik for the one and one sixteenth at Fair Grounds.  She runs well here with two recent non-graded stakes wins in the Pago Hop and Krantz Memorial. This could be another winner for Eden Prairie.  The spoiler could be Starstruck.  Has respectable finishes against tougher company in graded stakes races.  Most recently finishing third in the Krantz Memorial.  Class Included is the oldest mare in the race, and definitely has experience on her side.  In her entire career, the worst she has ever finished was 7th in 2012.  Definitely has the class and experience to win this one.   Joe Talamo gets the mount on the Ramseys’ horse, Awesome Flower, for Mike Maker.  Awesome Flower is the daughter of Flower Alley and Formalities Aside, by Awesome Again, but does not do well in graded company.  She won the Lady Canterbury at Canterbury Park in July 2013, and has only one non-graded win since then.  But, with these connections and Talamo on board, anything can happen.

Mineshaft (Gr. III):  Corey Nakatani came to win on Prayer for Relief. Period.  Micromanage is a good horse too, with Mike Smith aboard, but Mike isn’t really putting forth his best effort on the track lately.  He looks like a jockey who’s just going through the motions.  I like the #4 in here, Ground Transport, son of Big Brown.  Runs well at Fair Grounds – no less than a second place finish in recent starts there.  He’s entered in the Fair Grounds Handicap (Gr. III) as well, but with tougher company:  Daddy Nose Best, Gentleman’s Kitten, Potomac River and Skyring will make the Fair Grounds ‘cap a good race.

I look at pedigree as a guide when selecting horses.  In the Bayou, Street of Gold looks good with the pedigree – daughter of Street Sense – Harriett Lane by Giant’s Causeway, but is not producing.  The same is true for Afford in the Mineshaft.  Ironically, Afford is the son of Street Sense – Unaffordable by Unbridled.  Both are the offspring of Street Sense, and both ridden by Brian Hernandez.  It’s irony, that’s all I’m saying.