NOTES FROM TODAY’S KENTUCKY OAKS & THE REST OF THE CARD

Kentucky Oaks
Abel Tasman won the Kentucky Oaks.

Is there a better rider in the world these days than Javier Castellano? More importantly, is there a better, more humanitarian person. Really?

And, the guy is as smooth with his words and he is with his hands.

You meet him, “JJ,” anywhere, and you will get the same guy as you get at the racetrack. “Yes sir.” “Yes mam.” “Thank you, sir.” They are his standard remarks when he starts or finishes a conversation.

“Thank you,” and a firm shake of the hand is his normal salutation.

And, if you are wondering, you can catch him most days hanging around the winner’s circle of a racetrack.

“I love the guy,” said young trainer Stephen Lyster, who doesn’t have a horse in at Churchill this weekend, but still calls Castellano a friend. “He is the same with everybody. Doesn’t matter if you are a big trainer, or one just getting started.

“He does his job, and he thanks you for the opportunity.

“Gotta like a guy like that.”

Gotta.

In other words, Javier Castellano is a class act. Both on a horse’s back, and with a shake of the hand to a stranger, who simply wants his autograph. And, Friday, Castellano was classy all the way around a sloppy, swampy racetrack at Churchill DROWNS.

In the 7th race, Castellano guided Green Mask to a huge victory in the Grade 3 Turf Sprint – with a horse that has run more seconds than firsts. In 23 lifetime starts, Green Mask had five wins, seven seconds and three thirds. But Green Mask had seemed to develop a nasty habit of hanging just when it looked like he was surging. And, he turned a lot of wins into second and thirds.

On Saturday, Castellano was riding Green Mask for the first time, replacing regular rider Robby Albarado, who sustained a broken leg the last week of the Keeneland meet.

On Saturday, Green Mask didn’t hang. He hung a victory on the board for trainer Brad Cox and owner Abdullah Saeed Almaddah. It was Green Mask’s second victory in now what is nine lifetime starts at 5 furlongs on the grass. In the previous eight starts, he had five seconds and two thirds and just one win.

“I think we will keep him at this distance,” said Cox, who was interview by the NBC crew immediately after the rainy race. “He has a tendency to be his own worst enemy sometimes, but he got the job done today.”

It didn’t take Castellano long to get the job done again. In the 8th, he was aboard Benner Island, who drew the rail for the 7-furlong, Grade 2 Eight Belles Stakes on what may have been dirt before it was turned into mud pies.

The rail was golden all day and so was front-running speed. But Castellano’s filly is a closer. So what did he do?

He improvised. He went to the lead.

He won.

Holding off a late rush from Union Strike in the final strides, Castellano pick up win #2 for trainer – Brad Cox – and Shortleaf Stable.

Have yourself a day, Castellano and Cox.

 

Neil Howard Scores in the 3rd with Stonetacular

Earlier this week, I got to spend some time with my old friend, Neil Howard. I have known Neil since may days at the KTA-KTOB – dating back to 1988. We were both hanging out at the gap on the backside when Neil came up and said hello.

We caught up on each other’s careers and exchanged some pleasantries. I took a picture of Neil with one leg draped over the rail. Comfortable as could be. On his way back to the barn after watching a set on the track, I asked Neil what he had for this weekend.

“We are looking at some options and talking to the owners. We may have one or two that will run. They are doing pretty good,” Neil said.

Sure enough. Stonetacular, a 3-year-old filly, was a stone-cold runner on Friday, winning the third easily over an impressive filly, Elate, who is owned by Cliborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider. It was no contest.

I dialed Neil up on his cell and left a text message. I wanted him to know that he is still as understated and good as he always has been.

Casse Duo Runs First/Second in the 10th Rewarding Bettors

 In my selections, posted on the website each day, I said I was going to bet the “1 and 1a” across the board in the 10th despite the low odds. I wrote that if we were lucky and the two could run first and second, we could cash tickets on both of them.

I didn’t have many winners on Friday, but “Boom.” We had a nice lick here for an even money favorite. The duo paid more for the place than the win and you got to cash for $8.80 (for the combination) rather than just the $4 for the win.

Nice.

 

ROSARIO STRIKES AGAIN

 The more you read my columns and opinions here, you will find that I am not a huge fan of rider Joel Rosario. Despite the fact that he gets a lot of good mounts, and, as a result, finds his way to the winner’s circle because of that, I think the guy gets more good horses in more trouble than most.

It happened again on Friday. In the 5th race, the Grade 1 La Troienne, a 11/16-mile event on the main track. Rosario was aboard the favorite, Paid Up Subscriber for trainer Chad Brown. It didn’t take Rosario long to find trouble.

Going into the first turn, Rosario tried to squeeze his mare in-between horses. He got caught, appearing to clip heels and stumbled off balance. It was so noticeable the track announcer, Travis Stone called, “Paid Up Subscriber takes an awkward step there.”

Awkward and costly. After that, the mare could never recover her stride and momentum on a track favoring speed. And, she struggled home a distant fourth – a placing where she deserved much better.

Here’s a note. Put Paid Up Subscriber on your “Stable Mail” list and watch for her return to the races. And, hope that trainer Chad Brown selects another rider to get on board.

 

NBC AND TIRICO MISSES “THE OBJECTION”

 A few minutes after Castellano and Green Mask crossed the finish line first in the 8th, NBC switched over to host Mike Tirico for a quick closing and a “kick” over to some soccer game on the NBC national coverage.

Little did those viewers know, at the time, that the rider of Union Strike, Brice Blanc, had filed a “rider’s objection.”

So, while NBC viewers were watching a soccer match, we were sweating out what appeared to be a silly “objection.” The Churchill Downs Stewards did their due diligence and reviewed the tape before rejecting the objection.

The viewers on NBC were none the less for wear, but it would have been awkward to address if the outcome had changed and those watching with a rooting interest didn’t know they had lost their win ticket.

NBC has to remedy that issue.

He ran big, stayed behind the speed. He ran really, really well.”

Santo Sanjur, Jockey of MATROOH (third)
  • Gene McLean

    Gene McLean

    Gene McLean began his professional career in 1977 as a sportswriter and columnist for the Lexington Herald-Leader in Lexington, Ky., and was recognized as one of the state’s best writers, winning the prestigious “Sportswriter of the Year” honor in 1985. Now the President and Publisher of The Pressbox, McLean sets ...

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