See that twisted figure standing near the Oklahoma track? Yes, that's Javier Castellano, and it looks like he's attempting to master some absurd yoga pose as he clasps his hands above his head and bends over backward.
But this is not "rider greets the rising sun." Castellano is getting fitness tips from retired Dallas Cowboys coach Bill Parcells, learning how to stretch, warm up and keep himself in shape as a top athlete should.
"We don't have anybody to tell us what to do, how to stretch, how to relax," Castellano says. "I really want to learn."
Parcells shows him another exercise.
Leg up. Out. Over. Down.
"If you know what to do when you're young, you won't get old too fast," says The Coach. "I can tell you want to learn; you want to know how to take the best care of your body."
Castellano is 29. Came to the United States in 1997, started riding in Florida. Shipped his tack to New York in 2001, finished sixth in the New York standings that year. Made it to second in 2002. Decided he liked the place – a lot.
2004, first Breeders’ Cup mount, Ghostzapper in the Classic (gr. I) – Castellano wins.
2005, five races on one card and an upset on Mass Media in the Forego Handicap at Saratoga – another win.
2006, the Preakness Stakes (gr. I) and Travers (gr. I) aboard Bernardini – yet another win.
2007, his 2,000th race – yes, again.
We’re sensing a pattern here.
In the past 14 racing days at the Spa this season, Castellano has posted 11 victories to tie with Garrett Gomez and rank third behind Kent Desormeaux and John Velazquez. Not bad for a guy whose U.S. racing career is only 10 years old.
Maybe the secret is Castellano’s persistent morning presence as he makes the rounds at trainers’ barns every day. His exceptional manners don’t hurt, either – he insists on giving up his seat for anyone left standing, and when he handed a reporter a bottle of water the other day, it was only after he had carefully ensconced the sweating plastic in a napkin with a straw tucked alongside “so your hands don’t get water on them.”
Gotta love a gentleman.
Another secret to Castellano’s success – at least from the jockey’s perspective – is the work of Mike Kelly, his agent.
“You have to have a good agent in this game,” Castellano says. “I don’t know how they do it. I don’t have the patience. Everybody in this game changes their mind all the time.”
Talk about it, Javier.
“You see a guy one day and everything is fine,” the jockey continues. “You stop by the barn and he says, ‘Hey, Javier! Great to see you! Want some coffee? Want a donut? How’s the wife? How’s the family?’ Then you ride his horse and lose the race, and the next day he won’t talk to you. And you’re like, ‘Hey, but we had a nice conversation yesterday!’” He shrugs. “Yeah, I guess that was yesterday.”
At the rate he’s going this meet, it looks like Castellano will have a lot more coffee and donuts and less racetrack snubbing to worry about. That’s fine with him.
“I feel very lucky, very blessed to ride such good horses in such a short time, just 10 years,” he says. “If you look at Edgar Prado, John Velazquez, they were where I am five years ago, with Bailey and Day and others being the top riders. I think in maybe five years, I’ll be the new John Velazquez."
If early indications hold true, we’d have to agree with him on that – and thanks to The Coach, we know he'll be in shape to do so.