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.
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.
“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.