There was a time when Javier Castellano was a relative nobody in the colony of jockeys at Gulfstream Park.
Now he’s one of the premier jockeys in the world and the undisputed king of Gulfstream, where he has won the past four riding titles.
The 38-year-old native of Venezuela picked up where he left off Saturday, riding four winners on the 11-race, opening-day card at Gulfstream.
“I paid my price,” said Castellano, who came from Venezuela to Calder Race Course in 1997 to begin riding in the United States. “When I rode [at Gulfstream] with Jerry Bailey, Pat Day, Jose Santos, Julie Krone — I wanted to be one of them.
“They were my heroes, those jockeys. It just took time to get there.”
Castellano has twice won the Eclipse Award as the nation’s outstanding jockey and is positioned to win a third title based on his performance so far in 2015.
He leads the nation in wins, money earned and is the runaway leader in stakes wins (64) and graded-stakes wins (45). Castellano was the only jockey to beat Triple Crown winner American Pharoah this year, capturing the Travers Stakes at Saratoga aboard upset winner Keen Ice.
None of Saturday’s wins ranked with some of the others for Castellano.
But all four came aboard horses in the “Claiming Crown,” the kickoff event on Gulfstream’s first card of the winter.
On a dreary, rainy afternoon, Castellano was the day’s brightest star.
The jockey was a frequent visitor to the winner’s circle, reaching the wire first aboard Run With Bulls in the $110,000 Iron Horse, Stallwalkin’ Dude in the $110,000 Rapid Transit, Moonshine Promise in the $110,000 Glass Slipper and Royal Posse in the $200,000 Claiming Crown Jewel.
“South Florida has always been very good to me,” Castellano said.
Like every other rider Saturday, Castellano spent much of the day splattered boot to helmet in mud.
Such was the case in the feature race when he rallied Royal Posse from behind for a 2 1/2-length victory.
“I had to save a little ground on the first turn,” Castellano said. “But then everything worked out by the three-eighths pole. I was able to angle in and cut the corner, and he gave me a good, powerful kick. I was just the pilot.”
He’s the pilot most trainers want on their best horses, though.
“I’m very lucky, very blessed,” Castellano said. “I feel at home here. Gulfstream has been very good to me. This is where I started riding horses in the states, in Florida. The people have been very good to me. They give me fast horses to ride, and I feel very blessed.”
▪ Despite the unpleasant weather, Gulfstream handled $10.1 million, better than last year’s opening-day figure of $10 million.