Castellano Named Jockey of the Year at the Eclipse Awards

Javier Castellano is riding high once again…

The 37-year-old jockey in American Thoroughbred horse racing won his second straight Eclipse Award in the jockey division, making him the 11th rider in history to take that honor in consecutive years.

Javier Castellano

Castellano set a high standard in 2013, when he won his first Eclipse Award for outstanding jockey after establishing a North American record for mount earnings in a year. He again managed to reach significant heights in 2014, and because of his accomplishments, he is an Eclipse Award finalist for outstanding jockey for the fourth time.

Castellano led all jockeys in North American mount earnings in 2014 with $25,056,464. And while the number did not eclipse his $26,218,107 record, it ranked $3.4 million ahead of the year’s second-leading rider in earnings, Joel Rosario.

Castellano’s win total for 2014 was 315 from 1,365 mounts, second among all riders in North America. His year also included a handful of key riding titles, from the Gulfstream Park championship meet, to a tie atop the spring standings at Belmont Park, to the crown at Saratoga. There also were some thrilling stakes wins along the way, topped by V. E. Day’s nose score in the Travers.

Castellano was the top choice on 77 percent of the ballots cast. John Velazquez was second.

The Eclipse Awards, selected by voters from Daily Racing Form, the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters, and the National Thoroughbred Racing Association.

Winners were announced at the 44th annual Eclipse Awards dinner at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, Florida.

Velazquez Rides Union Rags to Victory at Belmont Stakes

The first time’s the charm for John Velazquez

Riding Union Rags for the first time, the 40-year-old Puerto Rican jockey led the 3-year-old colt to victory at Saturday’s 144th Belmont Stakes.

John Velzquez & Union Rags

Union Rags determinedly budged through a narrow opening on front-running Paynter‘s left flank with eight strides to go and snatched a dramatic neck victory in the Triple Crown finale in front of an enthusiastic crowd of 85,811 showed up at Belmont Park.

“I waited for a hole to open up, and I got lucky,” said Velazquez. “The horse did it all. … If it happens, it’s brilliant. If it doesn’t happen, you’re a bum, basically.”

John Velzquez & Union Rags

Velazquez set up the move by putting Union Rags in Paynter jockey Mike Smith‘s blind spot. But he still could only hope that Paynter would move ever so slightly off the rail. With Atigun making a run on the outside, Smith switched to his left-hand stick — and Velazquez seized the opportunity.

“I said this could be my chance,” he said. “… At first the hole was pretty tight.”

Smith said he didn’t see Velazquez until too late.

“I could have tried to make a difference, but you don’t want to let the stewards (decide) the outcome of a race like this,” he said. “If I tried to do anything, I was going to put him in harm, and I certainly didn’t want to do that, either.”

John Velzquez & Union Rags
“I thought he rode a brilliant race,” Union Rags’ trainer Michael Matz  said of Velazquez. “Whether he got up there or wouldn’t, he still rode a great race. … He’s a strong rider, he knows Belmont, and those were some of the things that went into picking John.”

Velazquez, who will be inducted into racing’s Hall of Fame in August, now has won three Triple Crown races, and all came after rider changes. He won the 2007 Belmont with Kentucky Oaks winner Rags to Riches, after jockey Garrett Gomez had a prior commitment for the race. He won last year’s Kentucky Derby on Animal Kingdom after Robby Albarado was kicked in the face by a horse.