Every end of the year brings several discussions about the probable Eclipse Award winners. The Outstanding Jockey category is one that sparks more than a few arguments.
Ramon Dominguez had won the Eclipse Award for three consecutive years. Prior to receiving his third statuette, in January 2013, a dangerous spill during a claiming race at Aqueduct truncated his stellar career. Unexpectedly, Javier Castellano, a fellow Venezuelan, became the heir to Dominguez’s throne not only by fashioning a tremendous campaign in 2013, but also remaining as the top jockey in 2014 and 2015. Now Javier is looking forward to a fourth consecutive Eclipse Award as Outstanding Jockey, a feat only achieved by Hall of Famer Jerry Bailey, who did it from 2000 to 2003.
While Castellano’s 2016 campaign can easily be considered excellent, it is undeniable that the Eclipse Award finalists could include a couple of young, stellar jockeys from Puerto Rico who have caused notable impact, mainly on the NYRA circuit: the Ortiz brothers, Irad and Jose. They combined for a total of 659 wins in 2016 — with Jose being the winningest rider in North America with 350.
Another name that can justifiably be considered is veteran jockey Mike Smith. A true “money player,” Smith excelled in graded stakes, his mounts earning more than $11 million in 2016. A very respectable campaign since he rode only 331 times as of December 26, compared to Jose Ortiz’s 1,563 mounts in the same period.
In my personal opinion, Castellano’s numbers are there to give him the edge. Let’s take a look at his 2016 performance:
PURSES EARNED: As of Dec. 26, Castellano leads all jockeys in earnings with $26.8 million. This number makes the native of Maracaibo, Venezuela the jockey with the three most productive campaigns in North American history, with a record $28.1 million in 2015, $26.8 million in 2016 and $26.2 million in 2013.
PURSES EARNED (ALL STAKES): Castellano’s mounts earned $16.4 million, more than $2 million more than Smith’s. He also led all jockeys in stakes wins with 62. He was second in win percentage (21 percent) and first in top-three finishes (53 percent).
PURSES EARNED (GRADED STAKES): Castellano’s mounts totaled $13.5 million and he led all jockeys with 35 graded stakes wins. He was third in win percentage (20 percent) and first in top-three finishes (55 percent).
PURSES EARNED (GRADED STAKES – TURF): Castellano’s mounts earned $5.1 million, and his 15 wins place him second behind Florent Geroux (20).
In addition, Castellano was the leading rider by earnings in dirt races ($15.0 million) and in turf races ($11.7 million). His 154 wins on the turf topped all jockeys in 2016. A true professional, Castellano always gives his best effort, no matter if he is riding in a $5,000 claiming affair or a Grade I race. His integrity and sportsmanship is well recognized and appreciated by the racing community. With almost 4,600 wins, this future Hall of Famer will probably reach the 5,000 win mark in early 2018. He is a true champion, and one of the best ambassadors of Latin American racing in the United States.