‘Riding Horses Is What I Know’: Jesus Castanon Named Tampa’s Jockey Of The Month

Entering Friday’s action, the Tampa Bay Downs jockey standings looked as if they were recovered from a time capsule. Tied at the top, with six victories each, were 48-year-old Jesus Castanon and Jose Ferrer, 57.

Between them, they’ve won 7,266 races, been hurt too many times and taken the long walk back to the jockeys’ room too often to mention. Yet each brings the same dedication, the same love for the sport and the horses and considerably more expertise than they first had as promising teenage riders.

Sometimes, they have to pinch themselves looking around at the new kids on the Oldsmar block who seek to knock them off their perches.

“Every year you have new riders coming in, and this place is very competitive,” Castanon said. “Jose and I were joking about it – you add our ages, and it makes about four of those younger guys.”

Castanon won back-to-back Tampa Bay Downs riding titles in 2004 and 2005, and he spent most of his winters over the next decade competing at Fair Grounds in New Orleans, Oaklawn Park in Arkansas or south Florida. When he returned here five years ago, the memories of those championship seasons came flooding back.

“When it gets close to Opening Day, I get excited to come here and enjoy the people and the weather and have a happy winter,” said Castanon, who edged Ferrer for the first Salt Rock Tavern Jockey of the Month Award of the meeting by virtue of win percentage (6-for-11 through Wednesday). “This place has been real good to me. I just have to thank all the trainers and owners and people on the backside for their support.”

Castanon also praised his new agent, Bob Jobson, for getting him on the right horses.

The fraternity of Thoroughbred race riders forms one of the strongest bonds in any sport. In October, Castanon had cause to reflect on the unwavering support of his own family when his father-in-law, Rolando Simpson, passed away unexpectedly.

Castanon dedicated the Jockey of the Month Award to the memory of Simpson and his own father, Jesus Castanon, Sr., who died of kidney disease in the fall of 2010, six months before the rider’s victory aboard Shackleford in the Preakness at Pimlico.

A former trainer, the elder Castanon gave Jesus – the second-youngest of 10 children – and his brothers Antonio and Jose German the green light to ride races. Both siblings are still in the business, with Jose German working here as the assistant to trainer Jordan Blair and Antonio galloping horses for Godolphin in Lexington, Ky.

Castanon’s wife, retired jockey Rolanda Simpson, is back home in Shepherdsville, Ky., with three of their four children and two grandchildren. Oldest son Micah is a law student.

Castanon turned to his family to shine a light in 2015 when he was injured twice in a period of two months, the second time incurring a broken tailbone and a concussion in an accident at Ellis Park in Kentucky.

“The second time made me think,” Castanon recounted later. “I looked at my children and thought, do I really want to keep doing it? But riding horses is what I know. My wife was basically with me the whole time I was recuperating, and she gave me a lot of encouragement and told me that whatever I wanted to do, she was going to be there for me.

“This is the main thing I have in life and I love doing it, so I knew I was doing the right thing.”

One of the main things his experience has taught Castanon is not to force the issue.

“I feel if I get too excited (during a race), I kind of lose the touch. So I just go with the motion and don’t over-think things,” Castanon said. “I do what I know to do on a horse, and the results have been working out really well.”

Castanon clinched the Jockey of the Month honor with his winning ride on 3-year-old gelding Styner for owner-trainer Juan Arriagada in the eighth race on Wednesday. Content to trail all but one horse early, Castanon shook up his mount approaching the 3/8-mile pole of the 1-mile turf event. Riding in perfect harmony with Styner’s instinctual desire, he reached the front a couple of jumps from the wire to win by a half-length at odds of 11-1.

“It was (Styner’s) first time racing on the grass, and after I worked him I knew he was going to be able to run. I knew he would be a little sharp from the gate, so I wanted to kind of take that away from him,” Castanon said.

“He was able to settle down behind horses and when I got him to pick it up and swing to the outside and get in the clear, he came running,” said Castanon, who won three races on the card.

Trainer Jordan Blair, who counts Castanon as his “go-to” rider at Tampa Bay Downs, said: “He has been a gifted rider his whole career. His racing IQ is very high and we usually don’t have to discuss much before a race because we’re on the same page.

“He puts horses in good spots during a race and can come back with good information about the race and the horse. He’s just a talented rider and I don’t think there is anyone better at Tampa Bay.”

Long-time Tampa Bay Downs race-goers know how fortunate they are to watch and wager on such dedicated veterans as Castanon, Ferrer and Daniel Centeno, but the street runs both ways. Those guys love coming to Tampa Bay Downs each winter to win races and school youngsters.

The relationships feel just like family.

The post ‘Riding Horses Is What I Know’: Jesus Castanon Named Tampa’s Jockey Of The Month appeared first on Horse Racing News | Paulick Report.

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