Two tourists stopped to look at the Leading Jockeys at Saratoga display cases along the walkway toward the grandstand Saturday morning.
They looked like tourists anyway.
Michael Migliore and Angel Castillo Jr. drove up from Philadelphia for the day, to experience Saratoga on Travers Day, to get an up close look at the biggest names in Thoroughbred racing. And to dream, just a little. Migliore looked at the display cases, which feature 8×10 photos of the meet’s top jockeys. Javier Castellano occupies the top spot, with 49 victories and counting. Behind him come Joel Rosario, John Velazquez, Jose Lezcano, the other all-stars.
Migliore made sure Castillo took a good look.
“Next year, he’s going to have his picture on that box, and not on the bottom either – on the top,” said Migliore, pointing to the first display case, which features Castellano, prominently.
Castillo, 16, is a jockey. The native of Venezuela rides at Parx Racing in Pennsylvania. He’s won 20 races from 125 mounts, and picked up a start on the biggest day at the biggest meet in the country Saturday.
He finished sixth aboard 25-1 shot Post Pattern in the sixth race, a maiden turf test for New York-breds. Trained by Dominick Schettino, the gray 4-year-old saved ground, made a little run and flattened out late. He was beaten 5 lengths. The kid on his back, who practiced his autograph in the jocks’ room beforehand and might actually be signing them in New York soon if Migliore has his way, looked neat and tidy, stayed on the fence, found a position, did just fine – even though he didn’t win.
But the race was about more than the result.
Just ask Migliore, the apprentice’s agent and brother to former top jockey Richard.
“I wanted him to see what big-time racing is all about,” Migliore said. “If you’re going to set goals, set them as high as you can, right? And this is Mecca. That was my plan, I wanted to show him. If he’s going to be a jockey, you want to be the best jockey you can possibly be. We’re at Parx. It’s a lot different than up here.”
There, Castillo competes in a demanding schedule as one of seven apprentices in a colony filled with veterans such as Kendrick Carmouche, Frankie Pennington and Stewart Elliot. John Bisono leads the way with 93 wins. Castillo’s father Angel Sr. is seventh in the standings with 50. His son is tied for 20th with 17. Not bad for a high-schooler.
Castillo came to the United States two years ago, after attending Venezuela’s jockey school, learned English while attending high school, and now takes home-school classes while pursuing his jockey career. He’s a slight 107 pounds, with an easy, wide, bright smile and a quiet voice. When asked to name a jockey hero, he quickly mentioned his father. Saturday, he recorded the annual Travers Day picnic table run with his phone – and eagerly showed it off.
“I couldn’t ride when I first came to America because I was 14,” he said. “At home, I was small and they told me I should be a jockey. My father took me to the jockey school and that’s where I learned.”
Migliore, something of an apprentice as an agent, used to be a carpenter downstate. He watched his brother ride, make a lengthy career in racing and always wanted to give the sport a try.
He took the agent’s test, booked mounts for Jessica Davis and then met Castillo.
“I was at the racetrack one day and one of the trainers said ‘that boy right there is going to be a talent,’ and I went over to his car, I introduced myself,” Migliore said. “I talked to his dad and him and took his book from there.”
They won their first race together, a week ago, with $7,500 claimer Jaleos for owner Dario Vasquez and trainer Catherine Somers. The 5-year-old was 13-1, longest shot on the board.
“We opened up some eyes over there,” Migliore said. “It’s a tough grind at Parx, a lot of jockeys. You’ve got agents that have been there for 30 years. With the boy, hey, we win our first race together, so here we go. The agents there are already established with their clientele, but we’re building up.”
Saturday morning, Migliore said they’d be on the road back home before dinner thanks to commitments at Parx Sunday morning.
“Win or lose, we’re going back,” the agent said. “We’re not going to celebrate or anything. We have to be at the barns tomorrow, no fooling around.”
The Saratoga mount came about because Migliore knows Post Pattern’s owner Robert Falcone. It was too good a chance to ignore.
“He asked me if we wanted to come ride it – absolutely,” said Migliore. “This was my plan, show him Saratoga and let him feel it. This is what it’s all about.”
For tourists and jockeys. Agents too.