There was a strong sense with jockey Javier Castellano that when Constitution won the Florida Derby last spring, he finally had the horse that would leave him smelling the roses for the first time.
Kentucky Derby roses.
But Constitution dropped by the wayside with an injury before the first Saturday in May, and Castellano came up empty once again in the first jewel of the Triple Crown, the one major prize that has eluded the 37-year-old Venezuelan.
“I thought that was the horse that was going to put me in the big picture,” Castellano lamented.
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“But, unfortunately, you never know what’s going to happen in this game. This game is unpredictable, and anything can happen.”
Castellano will be aboard Constitution, now back to full health, in Saturday’s $500,000 Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park.
It’s a potent combination, the horse and jockey, who ranks as one of the nation’s premier riders, both locally and nationally.
Castellano has won three consecutive riding titles at Gulfstream and sits atop the current standings, bidding for an unprecedented fourth track title in a row.
He has also won the Eclipse Award as the nation’s most outstanding jockey in each of the past two years, and with seven more wins he will record his 4,000th victory since arriving to the U.S. from Venezuela in 1997.
That’s when, barely able to speak English, he won his first U.S. race at Calder. Castellano’s career took off quickly, and it wasn’t long before he graduated to the major-league East Coast circuit.
Now, Castellano’s skilled services are in high demand, and he’s rarely wanting for mounts aboard the top thoroughbreds.
In addition to the Donn, he is also scheduled to ride in three of the five other stakes on one of the richest cards all year in South Florida.
The Grade I Donn is the highlight and has produced one of the strongest fields in years for the 11/8-mile event.
Lea, with jockey Joel Rosario, is the 9-5 program favorite. Constitution is listed as the 7-2 second choice, with Belmont Stakes runner-up Commissioner at 4-1.
Protonico — who joins Constitution and Commissioner among the three Todd Pletcher-trained horses in the race — also figures to receive solid wagering support based on a close second-place finish in his previous outing, the Grade I Clark Handicap.
Despite the strong credentials of some of the others, Lea is deserving of his favorite status after a winning performance in the Hal’s Hope Handicap following an 11-month layoff.
Lea has never lost at Gulfstream in his three starts, including last year’s Donn.
Commisioner is looking for his first win since January of 2014. But his defeats have come against tough company.
Castellano was aboard the horse when he lost the Belmont by a head to Tonalist.
But the jockey will stick with Constitution in the Donn.
Constitution finished a close third in the Clark Handicap, behind his stablemate and race winner Hopportunity.