Javier Castellano could not be blamed for thinking about what might have been with Union Rags. But Gulfstream Park’s leading rider prefers to look ahead, especially to his ride aboard El Padrino this Saturday in the Grade I Florida Derby.
Castellano came to Florida this winter as the regular rider of Union Rags, the early 6-5 favorite for the Florida Derby, as well as the promising young colt Algorithms. After Algorithms blew away Eclipse champion Hansen Jan. 29 in the Grade III Holy Bull, Castellano had to make a decision, and it turned out badly when Algorithms came up injured.
By that time, Julien Leparoux was the new rider for Union Rags, who established himself as the early favorite for the Kentucky Derby with a resounding triumph Feb. 26 in the Grade II Fountain of Youth.
Castellano is philosophical about the turn of events. “Unfortunately things happen. It was a tough decision. It was back and forth for about two weeks. Union Rags is a great horse. I chose the other horse, and he got hurt. It’s part of the game.”
Choosing Algorithms over Union Rags was more than a horse-vs.-horse decision. Algorithms is trained by Todd Pletcher, who has played a major role in Castellano's rise to an elite level.
“Todd has given me a lot of support the last couple of years to put me in a good position in my career. Right now, he has the best horses in the country. I’m really blessed to be participating in his organization,” Castellano acknowledged.
So this Saturday, Pletcher will be giving Castellano a leg up on El Padrino, a three-time winner in five starts, to run against Union Rags.
Castellano remains optimistic. "He put everything together (in his most recent race). He’s a courageous horse,” Castellano said. “He’s well bred, by Pulpit, and I think he’s going to put on a really good show Saturday.”
--Edited Gulfstream Park release