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Saratoga Notebook: Castellano Enjoys Spa Success

Saratoga Notebook

Javier Castellano

Javier Castellano

Keeneland/Coady Photography

It's been a gratifying summer so far at Saratoga Race Course for Hall of Fame jockey Javier Castellano. The 44-year-old Castellano found the winner's circle for the 20th time this meet when Uncle Water Flow, the even-money favorite, took the opener on Aug. 18.

Last year, the two-time champion jockey at Saratoga had his worst Spa season ever, visiting the winner's circle just 13 times.

This year, there is rejuvenation.

"I am very satisfied with my meet so far," Castellano said before the card began. "I feel great. I want to prove I still belong."

Castellano's 2021 season was a hangover from 2020. During that year, he had COVID-19 and that put him out of action for three weeks. In November, he had arthroscopic surgery on his right leg near the hip, further setting him back.

He and his new agent P.J. Campo began putting the pieces together. When he was out, he lost mounts. Only hard work and determination got him back.

"Getting 13 wins gave me motivation," he said of his 2021 Saratoga. "I was frustrated. I thought people would be more loyal to me. You knock on doors and they close. I could go to barns and say I won four Eclipse Awards as the best jockey in the country; I am in the Hall of Fame; I've won six Travers (G1); 12 Breeders' Cup races. I feel great."

Before 2021, Castellano has annually been one of the top riders in Saratoga. He won titles in 2013 and 2014 and had a personal record of 66 in 2013. 

Castellano said he plans on riding for at least four or five more years.

Lagunes Plays a Big Role on Rich Strike Team

Normally, Gabriel Lagunes would be riding at Mountaineer Casino Racetrack & Resort in West Virginia.

These are not normal days.

The 45-year-old Lagunes, a native of El Crucero, Mexico, is at Saratoga to be with RED TR-Racing's Rich Strike, who is preparing for the $1.25 million Runhappy Travers (G1) on Aug. 27. And Rich Strike, a son of Keen Ice , can't prepare without Lagunes.

Rich Strike at Belmont Park, June 1, 2022
Photo: Coglianese Photos/Adam Coglianese
Gabriel Lagunes aboard Rich Strike ahead of the Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park

When Rich Strike is getting ready to run, Lagunes is right with him. Eric Reed, Rich Strike's trainer, said Lagunes has dropped everything to work with Rich Strike.

Reed said Lagunes has worked with his horses for "years. 

"Gabriel has been with me long before this horse," Reed said on the Saratoga backstretch Aug. 18. "Every time we are ready to travel, he is ready to come. He knows this horse."

Lagunes was with Rich Strike before he won the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1) and was on Long Island before the Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets (G1).

Lagunes says he is getting the same vibe he got from the colt that he got before Rich Strike won the Derby at odds of 80-1.

"He likes it here," Lagunes said. "He's happy. He is galloping here like he did before the Derby. At Belmont, it was different. He didn't like it, wasn't confident. He feels good here."

Lagunes has won 19 races at Mountaineer from 117 starts.

"He is one of the most important parts of our travel team, that's for sure," Reed said.