Tough Call For Castellano: Who to Ride in Travers?

Javier Castellano aboard Arcangelo | Sarah Andrew

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – To Mage (Good Magic) or to Arcangelo (Arrogate)? That is the question Hall of Fame jockey Javier Castellano faces as he decides which colt he will ride in the GI Travers S. on Aug. 26.

For Castellano, who has a record six wins in the oldest and most famous stake at Saratoga Race Course, it is a beautiful yet difficult problem. An embarrassment of riches. He must choose between Mage, who carried him to his first victory in the GI Kentucky Derby, or Arcangelo, his first GI Belmont S. winner. The trainers of both horses–Gustavo Delgado handles Mage and Jena Antonucci, who has developed Arcangelo–want his services in the Travers.

With two weeks and a few days to go, Castellano, 45, has yet to announce whether he will be on the gray, Arcangelo, or the chestnut, Mage.

“They're both really good horses,” Castellano said. “You can't compare them. They are both well bred. One, he wins the Derby. One, he wins the Belmont. They both fit perfectly in the distance and they have proved it. It's tough.”

Both colts are connected to the Travers through their pedigrees. Arcangelo's sire, Arrogate (Unbridled's Song), won the 2016 Travers at 11-1 in a track record time of 1:59.36. Mage is from the first crop of Good Magic (Curlin), who finished ninth as the favorite in the 2018 Travers, his final career start.

Castellano's connection with Delgado goes back decades to their home country, Venezuela, where his father rode for the distinguished trainer, who is now based in Florida. He has ridden Mage four times: fourth in the GII Fountain of Youth S., the Derby victory, third in the GI Preakness, and, most recently, second in the GI Haskell on July 22. On Arcangelo for Antonucci, he is perfect: a Mar. 18 maiden special weight at Gulfstream, the GII Peter Pan S. and the Belmont, both at Belmont Park.

“I keep praying and I hope I make the right decision because somebody is going to get upset,” he said.

Through the decades, the outcome of the Travers, first run in 1864, has often helped determine the 3-year-old male division championship. That very well could happen again this year with the three Triple Crown race winners, Mage, Preakness victor National Treasure (Quality Road) and Arcangelo on course for the race.

Will Castellano be aboard Arcangelo or Mage?

“I really don't know,” he said after working Arcangelo Sunday morning.

Castellano said he was impressed with the way Arcangelo breezed five furlongs in 1:00.21 and followed with a lusty gallop out. He said the colt owned by Blue Rose Farm is now more focused about his works and does things very easily.

While that was an endorsement, Castellano said it does not mean he has committed to the colt for the Travers.

“We'll see. We'll see how he comes out of this work,” Castellano said. “I have to meet with Gustavo to see what is his plan.”

In his first timed work after the Haskell, Mage breezed five furlongs in 1:01.03 on Saturday under his regular exercise rider, J.J. Delgado. He is likely to work again Friday.

Castellano said that Mage “put in a great effort in the Haskell. He ran such a great race. Unfortunately, he finished second, but he made a great effort. He missed a couple of works going into that race. I think he's a good horse.”

In 27 seasons of riding in North America, Castellano has 5,687 wins from 31,531 starts. He is second behind John Velazquez in career earnings with $388,185,850. Despite all his experience and success, Castellano said this who-shall-I-ride quandry is new territory for him.

“We're talking about two Triple Crown horses. It's never happened before in my life,” he said. “Of course, I've had a lot of tough decisions with 3-year-old campaigns in the past. I've been in that position before, but not like this. This is really, really special. This is something you have to be very careful with. Everything works out for some reason. I'll keep praying, hope I make the right decision and go from there.”

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