Shares Native Land with Trainer Sano
When Javier Castellano rides Gunnevera in Saturday's Florida Derby, he'll be looking for his second win in the Derby prep, which has produced 23 Kentucky Derby winners. In 2014, Castellano won the Florida Derby with the Pletcher-trained Constitution, who subsequently missed the Kentucky Derby because of an injury.
Castellano is very high on Gunnevera, whom he says has a demeanor beyond his years.
]“Gunnevera acts like a pro, like an old horse,” Castellano said. “So far nothing bothers him. He doesn’t react to dirt in the face. Some horses won’t close when they get that kick-back. But everything he does comes so easily.”
Castellano was first partnered with Gunnevera in the Saratoga Special last August, and they won at odds of 9-1 in a come-from-behind victory. It was Gunnevera's fourth career start. Castellano and Gunnevera journeyed to Louisiana to capture the Delta Downs Jackpot to close out his juvenile season. In February, Castellano rode Gunnevera to a second-place finish in the Lambholm South Holy Bull before his big win in the Fountain of Youth,
Trainer Antonio Sano, who began his training career in his native Venezuela before coming to the United States in 2009, said when he shipped Gunnevera to Saratoga, he was in need of a rider. While he was debating his choices, Sano received a fateful phone call.
“Javier called me on the phone and told me he wanted to ride my horse,” Sano said. “I was so honored. A lot of pride, I felt.”
Castellano also launched his career in Venezuela in 1996 in advance of immigrating to the United States the following year. The jockey said there are good vibes associated with riding a horse that connects him to his homeland.
“I never had the opportunity to ride for Antonio in Venezuela, because I only rode in my country for a short time before coming to the United States,” Castellano said. “I had never met him there. But I knew he was great horseman, who won a lot of important races in Venezuela. It makes it very, very special for all of us from Venezuela to share this experience with this horse.”
The past several months have been ones of transition for Castellano, who parted ways with his longtime agent, Matt Muzikar, late last summer, and began working with Mike Lakow, a former racing official.
“Everything is going in the right direction. Mike is handling the business very, very well,” Castellano said. “I give a lot of credit to (Muzikar) because I wouldn’t be where I am today without him. I will never forget what he did for me. He gave me my first steps in my career and now Mike is giving me my second steps.”
Those steps include another decade if Castellano gets his way.
“I’m going to be 40 this year,” he said. “It’s hard to say, but I’m looking at a goal of riding another 10 years. In the meantime, I want to continue to take care of my body because there’s more for me to accomplish.”
Edited Gulfstream Park release