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January 09, 2019


by Mike Henry
Señor Tequila Mexican Grill Award winner reflects on the contributions of racing's far-flung community to his success; wave of long-shot winners creates a $34,672 Pick-5 carryover into Friday's card on races 6-10.

In the days following his 2,500th career victory, Jesus Castanon took time to reflect on its significance to his career and his life as a classic-winning jockey with 30 years in the saddle.

In addition to his family, Castanon heard from former agents, trainers and fellow jockeys in the hours and days after his milestone triumph Saturday aboard 6-year-old mare Tearless in the Fillies and Mares Division of the Tampa Turf Test at Tampa Bay Downs.


Jesus Castanon

The recognition reminded Castanon that for all his talent and determination, he didn’t get to this point by himself.

“I don’t think I would have done it without all the help I’ve had from trainers and my agents and everyone else who has supported me,” said Castanon, the Señor Tequila Mexican Grill Jockey of the Month. “And all the help we get from the grooms, because we have to have somebody take care of the horses and look after them after the races.

“If it wasn’t for them, there is no way I would be able to get it done,” Castanon said. “Sometimes you can think you’re just here for the day, but it’s not really like that. People pay attention to what you’re doing, and accomplishing this makes you realize how many people are keeping up with your career.”

The 45-year-old Mexico City product returns the favor, giving advice and insight to such youngsters as 21-year-old Jose A. Bracho, who has a cubicle next to him in the Tampa Bay Downs jockeys’ room. “The only way we get to learn in this business is by asking questions,” Castanon said. “There are a lot of things I probably would have done differently at that age if I knew what I know today.”

Bracho, the son of jockey Agustin Bracho, knows the value of absorbing such knowledge. “I think the more experience you have, the better, and I look up to Danny (Centeno) and (Castanon),” Bracho said. “The way they ride, their experience – looking at them helps me a lot.”

Castanon is fourth in the Oldsmar standings this season with 14 victories. He is a two-time Tampa Bay Downs riding champion, riding 87 winners in 2003-2004 and 101 in 2004-2005.

His biggest achievement came in 2011, when he won the Preakness at Pimlico on the Dale Romans-trained Shackleford about six months after his father, former trainer Jesus Castanon, Sr., succumbed to kidney disease.

Castanon received two breeding rights to Shackleford from owners Michael Lauffer and Bill Cubbedge. Castanon and his wife Rolanda bred their mare Miss Dora to the Preakness champ and were rewarded with the (now)-4-year-old filly Shackira Shackira, who has notched three of her four victories with Castanon in the irons. Shackira Shackira is trained by his brother, former jockey Jose Castanon.

“We’d like to breed (Shackira Shackira) to a nice stallion after her racing career,” Castanon said. “That’s everybody’s dream.”

For now, though, Castanon, who plans to return to Indiana Grand in the spring, has set his sights on the next numerical milestone: 3,000.

“I’ve tasted the sweet water and the sour water, and I feel like I’ve pretty much done it all already,” said Castanon, who also won the Grade I Clark Handicap on Shackleford in 2012 and has ridden such other graded-stakes winners as Yara, Tizdejavu, Burning Roma, Paddy O’Prado, Demarcation, Carve and Bonus Pack. “I just want to win as many races as I can, no matter where I’m riding.

“I’m happy to be here and still be doing what I love,” added Castanon, who came back from a pair of 2015 spills that resulted in a broken fibula, broken tailbone (twice) and concussion. Those injuries sidelined him about five months and made him contemplate retirement. “But when I win 3,000, that’s probably it.”

For starters, he’ll be tied up a while answering the congratulatory calls and messages.

Around the oval. No bettor hit the late Pick-5, creating a carryover pool of $34,672 into Friday’s late Pick-5 on races 6-through-10. There is also a $12,047 carryover Super High-5 pool into Friday’s first race (the Super High-5 wager requires a minimum of seven entrants).

Irish Strait turned in a dominant performance in the sixth race, the Tampa Bay Prep on the turf, leading gate to wire and triumphing by three-and-three-quarter lengths from stablemate Can’thelpbelieving. Special Envoy finished third.

The top two finishers are trained by H. Graham Motion.

Jorge A. Vargas, Jr., rode Irish Strait, a 7-year-old gelding bred and owned by Isabelle de Tomaso. His time for the mile-and-a-sixteenth was a swift 1:41.32. Today’s effort appears to set him up well for the Grade III, $175,000 Tampa Bay Stakes on Feb. 9, a race in which the Grade III stakes winner Irish Strait finished third two years ago.

Leading jockey Samy Camacho and Wilmer Garcia each rode two winners today. Camacho captured the first race on Midnight Blvd, a 5-year-old mare owned by Anthony Granitz, Captain Jack Racing Stable and Ochre House Stable and trained by Granitz. Camacho added the ninth on Darwish, a 4-year-old gelding owned and trained by Juan Arriagada.

Garcia booted home a pair of long shots. He won the fifth race on Kwaina, a 7-year-old mare owned by Joan Pieper and trained by Johnny Collins. Kwaina paid $62.40 to win. Garcia added the eighth on Keepingitquiet, a 5-year-old gelding owned by Pewter Stable and Ralph Grasso and trained by Kathleen DeMasi. Keepingitquiet returned $27.20.

Thoroughbred racing continues Friday with a 10-race card beginning at 12:45 p.m. Tampa Bay Downs is open every day for simulcast wagering, no-limits action and tournament play in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.

“College Day” contest is Saturday. Current college students and high school seniors pursuing a post-secondary education are eligible to compete for one of five $2,000 scholarships to be awarded through the Upper Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce Educational Foundation in the inaugural “College Day” promotion.

To enter, eligible students must complete an entry form that will be available at the Customer Service Desk on Saturday. Upon the completion of that day’s racing, 25 names will be drawn at random and designated contest finalists.

Those individuals will be required to submit an essay of fewer than 500 words on the following subject: “Marketing Horse Racing To a New Generation of Fans,” with emphasis on initiatives and proposals aimed at attracting and retaining new followers.

The deadline to submit essays is Feb. 2. A panel of judges will rank the essays, with criteria including feasibility, originality, understanding of the horse racing industry, clarity and grammar and spelling.

All non-winners receive two passes good for free admission on any racing day.