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January 24, 2018


by Mike Henry
Jesus Castanon branches off into breeding and owning, but shows no signs of slowing in the saddle.

After a recent maiden turf race at Tampa Bay Downs in which “Plan A” went by the wayside when his mount hopped at the start and dropped to last, Jesus Castanon hustled back to the jockeys’ room to watch the replay.

Castanon’s filly had rallied to finish third, despite having to swing wide on the turn for home because of traffic. Although he didn’t find anything major to second-guess, Castanon studied the videotape for solutions that might help the horse graduate into the winners’ ranks next time.


Jesus Castanon

“I like to start looking at my races the day before and studying the program to see who has the most speed and who should be coming from off the pace,” Castanon said. “In that race, I wanted to be laying in the middle of the pack early, but when things don’t work out the way you expect, you have to bite the bullet and wait until it’s time for you to pick it up.”

This time, it was a little too late. So Castanon went to the tape as he always does, win, lose or dead-heat. “I like to see what I could have done better. You learn from your mistakes,” Castanon said. “Then I move on to the next race and try to do better.

“When things happen like (a bad start or traffic problems), I don’t let it bother me,” Castanon said. “You keep it in the back of your mind, but you have to move on to the next race.”

The two-time Tampa Bay Downs jockey champion (2003-2004 and 2004-2005) has shown enough resilience throughout his career to post more than 2,400 victories, including a career-defining triumph aboard Shackleford in the 2011 Preakness.

And Castanon shows no signs of slowing; with 13 victories from 86 mounts at the current meeting, he has been selected the Señor Tequila Mexican Grill Jockey of the Month. A recent highlight included a three-victory day on Jan. 13 for trainers Kathleen O’Connell, Derek Ryan and Ian Wilkes.

Castanon’s passion, and his respect, for the sport shine through on a daily basis. The 44-year-old rider’s solid physique makes it clear he has no intention of scaling back any time soon.

“I’m happy with how everything has been going,” said Castanon, who has also won two titles apiece at Ellis Park and Turfway Park and another at Kentucky Downs. “I’ve been very blessed to be able to get up and do what I like to do. I feel strong, and when I make a mistake I always learn from it and make myself better.

“I try to keep myself healthy and leave everything to God. Whatever he has planned for me in the future, I’m happy with it,” Castanon said.

You wouldn’t expect Castanon to be antsy about riding a 2-year-old filly in a $30,000 maiden claiming race. But the eighth race on Nov. 15 at Churchill Downs was different.

Castanon was aboard Shackira Shackira, a horse he bred and owns with his wife, Rolanda Simpson Castanon. Trained by Jose Castanon, Jesus’ brother, Shackira Shackira is the product of a mating between Shackleford and Miss Dora, a 10-year-old broodmare owned by Jesus and Rolanda and boarded at their farm in Shepherdsville, Ky.

Despite finishing eighth in a nine-horse field on a sloppy track, the experience of riding his own horse occupies a special spot in his memory bank.

“It was pretty exciting. I was a little nervous in the beginning, but once we came out of the gate, I just went about handling my business,” Castanon said. “Probably I was a little more confident, because I know her so well.”

Jesus and Rolanda own a full sister to Shackira Shackira, the unraced 2-year-old filly Miss Shack. His foray into breeding and owing resulted from a gift of two breeding seasons to Shackleford from that classic winner’s breeders-owners, Mike Lauffer and Bill Cubbedge.

Shackira Shackira is scheduled to make her third start in Saturday’s seventh race at Fair Grounds in New Orleans (she finished fifth in her second start last month under apprentice Edgar Morales). This time, Jack Gilligan has the riding assignment.

“She’s ready,” Castanon said with a smile. “He (Gilligan) better not mess it up, because I’ll be calling him.”

Like most folks who were here then, Castanon has no idea where the 13 years have gone since his second Oldsmar title. “It sounds like a long time, but it seems like it was just a few years ago,” he said.

He makes it sound as if there is no place he’d rather be, and perhaps it is so. “I’ve always felt very welcome here,” he said. “Every time I get here, I’m happy to be back, happy to be riding for these owners and trainers and competing against my fellow riders who are good people.”

Around the oval. Antonio Gallardo rode back-to-back winners today. He captured the eighth race on the turf on Atlantic Force, a 3-year-old colt bred and owned by Juddmonte Farms and trained by William Mott. Gallardo added the ninth on first-time starter Shes One Mad Momma, a 3-year-old Florida-bred colt owned by Calsal Stables and trained by Kathleen O’Connell.

Saturday is Cap Giveaway Day, with each patron receiving (with paid admission, while supplies last) a silver-and-black mesh cap with the distinctive Tampa Bay Downs logo.

Jockeys will be available on the first floor of the Grandstand throughout most of the day to sign caps and other items.

Thoroughbred racing at Tampa Bay Downs continues Friday with a nine-race card beginning at 12:25 p.m. Tampa Bay Downs conducts racing each Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, as well as two Thursdays, Feb. 15 and 22.

Tampa Bay Downs is open every day for simulcast wagering, no-limits poker action and tournament play in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.