There are good days and then there are days like Friday for jockey Javier Castellano and veteran sire and multiple Horse of the Year Curlin.
Race after race during the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes Day card at Pimlico Race Course Castellano and Curlin factored mightily in the results, often together, to shine bright on Maryland’s second biggest racing day of the year.
Castellano won five races, four stakes and in five consecutive mounts, while Curlin sired the winners of the Grade 2 Black-Eyed Susan, Grade 3 Pimlico Special and Grade 3 Allaire duPont Distaff. Trainer Brad Cox did his best to keep the C theme rolling with two stakes wins – Covfefe in the Grade 3 Miss Preakness and Mylady Curlin in the Allaire duPont Distaff – and nearly a third with Ulele beaten a half-length in the Black-Eyed Susan.
Castellano didn’t dwell too much on his big day, which ended with five victories from seven mounts and purse earnings of $401,140. John Panagot, Castellano’s agent, booked him on six more Saturday including Warrior’s Charge in the Preakness and Catholic Boy in the Grade 2 Dixie.
“I’m so excited, very happy,” Castellano said after winning his fifth of the day Friday aboard Point Of Honor in the Black-Eyed Susan for trainer George Weaver. “Everybody has been so supportive of me. I’m very blessed.”
Weaver, who tried to get Point Of Honor into the field for the Kentucky Oaks but ultimately could not because the Curlin filly lacked sufficient points to be among the top 14 that made the gate, watched the day unfold and gained confidence with every stakes Castellano added to his Hall of Fame resume.
Castellano knew the filly from riding her in Florida, to a victory in the Suncoast Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs in early February and to a fourth in the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Oaks in late March.
“Javier is one of the greatest riders in the country. He won my first big race with Saratoga County back in the day,” Weaver said, referring to the 2004 Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct. “It was clear as I was watching the day unfold that he was in the zone. I was just hoping I was in the zone and my filly was in the zone, too. As always the way he was going it was going to be hard to deny him.”
Point Of Honor made it clear she’d be tough in the 1 1/8-mile Black-Eyed Susan. She and Castellano raced in seventh early while California shipper Brill and Cookie Dough, third and one spot ahead of Point Of Honor in the Gulfstream Park Oaks, led through the opening splits of :23.35 and :47.02.
Castellano kept Point Of Honor wide around the far turn, passed several rivals while Cookie Dough continued along on the lead. They continued on in the lane, drifted a bit in the stretch, took over inside the eighth pole and held off Ulele at the end. Point Of Honor, who races for the partnership of Stetson Racing and Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners, picked up $150,000 for the win and improved to 3-for-4 with a bankroll of $246,375. She won in 1:47.88.
“We needed two scratches and despite all our efforts to get somebody to scratch it didn’t happen. Nobody scratched,” Weaver said of the Kentucky Oaks. “It might have been a blessing. Serengeti Empress won impressively that day and she was loose on the lead. Different type of race today, there was some speed signed on board. She’s a nice filly though. She was training very well before the Oaks and we were dying to run. Maybe she would have won that race, too. The Black-Eyed Susan is a terrific, prestigious race, too, and a great next step for this filly.”
Three races before the Black-Eyed Susan another 3-year-old filly, LNJ Foxwoods’ Covfefe, showed she’s ready for the next step winning the Miss Preakness. The daughter of Into Mischief bested Northern Wolf’s long-standing track record for 6 furlongs winning by 8 1/2 lengths in 1:07.70. Covfefe also improved to 3-for-4 in her first stakes victory.
“That can’t be right, can it?” Cox asked members of his team about the time. “She’s fast. We weren’t hell-bent on getting to the lead today. We were going to let the speed go if there was a lot of it. Javier did a great job of letting her fall into the race. I’m super pleased with her.
“We’ve thought she was a superstar from the start. To ship her to a Grade 1 (Frizette Stakes last October at Belmont) off breaking her maiden should tell you we like her. She put it together today.”
LNJ Foxwoods, the family operation of Larry and Nanci Roth and their daughter Jaime Roth, wasted no time making another trip to the winner’s circle after their homebred Dogtag won the $100,000 Maker’s Mark Hilltop Stakes under Castellano. Trained by Chad Brown and off since last September’s Grade 2 Miss Grillo, the 3-year-old War Front filly topped stablemate Nova Sol to add the Hilltop to her victory in last year’s P.G. Johnson at Saratoga.
Castellano’s first win of the day came aboard Mark Grier’s Eons in the fifth race, an allowance on the grass for Arnaud Delacour. The jockey and trainer teamed up to add the sixth, the $100,000 Skipat with Lael Stables’ Chalon, who nearly broke the track record winning in 1:09.46. The prior record set of 1:09 was set by Northern Wolf in August 1990.
Castellano’s mount in the co-featured Grade 3 Pimlico Special, War Story, scratched and the race went to Winchell Thoroughbreds’ Tenfold. A close third to Justify in last year’s Preakness, Tenfold bounced back from two losses at Fair Grounds and Oaklawn to hold off You’re To Blame by a neck. Maryland-based Cordmaker finished another neck back in third in the 1 1/4-mile Special, lengthened beyond its prior 1 3/16 miles for 2019.
“That’s the horse we expected,” winning jockey Ricardo Santana Jr. said. “We always believed in him. He always tries hard.”
Trainer Steve Asmussen always kept the Special in the back of his mind for the homebred son of Curlin, knowing how well he handled the Pimlico surface last year when he only finished three-quarters of a length behind the eventual Triple Crown winner.
“Exactly the outcome we were hoping for,” he said. “The sky is the limit for him. I don’t think he’s really laid his body down yet. He’s a sound horse and everything in the pedigree gets better with age.”
Notes: Robert Bone’s Completed Pass scored one for the locals with a victory as the favorite in the $100,000 Jim McKay Turf Sprint. The Indiana-bred son of Pass Rush won by a length from 30-1 longshot Tempt Me Twice with Tricks To Doo and Castellano third in the field of six. … The Maryland Jockey Club reported record attendance for Black-Eyed Susan Day of 51,573, up from the previous record 50,339 set in 2017. Total handle of $22.281 million was also a record, topping the $19.895 million set in 2017.