Hall of Fame jockey Javier Castellano expressed confidence in his Grade 1, $3 million Kentucky Derby mount Vekoma, who he rode to victory in the Grade 2 Blue Grass at Keeneland earlier this month.
Castellano guided the George Weaver-trained son of Candy Ride to victory in the Blue Grass, where he drifted out in mid-stretch, but still managed to win by 3 ½ lengths as the lukewarm favorite and recorded a 94 Beyer speed figure in doing so.
A winner of three of his four career starts Vekoma has displayed a stalking running style in his three victories. Castellano said that where Vekoma will be placed in the Derby is hard to tell and will depend on a number of factors.
“It's hard to predict when you go into a big race like this with 20 horses. We all have high expectations,” Castellano said. “You never know, because there are 20 horses in the race. Maybe he'll end up on the lead, maybe he'll come from way back. The Kentucky Derby is one the toughest races in the country to handicap.
“The key is going to be how you break out of the gate and try not to use him too much because it's a mile and a quarter,” continued Castellano. “They're three years old and they've never been that distance. You have to go with the flow and see how he breaks. It really is hard to predict.”
Castellano has ridden in a dozen Kentucky Derbies and got his best finish last year when piloting Audible to a third-place finish behind eventual Triple Crown winner Justify.
Castellano stated that one of the most important elements to riding the Run for the Roses is having the right trip.
“I've ridden in the race so many times, but I think the key is that you need to have a good horse and a lot of luck,” Castellano said. “It's not only a matter of having the right horse, but you have to have a nice clean trip. I feel a lot of confidence in myself and in the horse.”
Castellano was aboard Vekoma for his most recent and final breeze for the Kentucky Debry, which took place at Palm Beach Downs in South Florida, where he worked five furlongs in 59.95 on Friday.
“He felt great,” Castellano said. “He breezed real well. He went 59 and change and did it the right way. I'm very satisfied the way he did his work.”
With the Kentucky Derby post-position draw slated for Tuesday morning, Castellano said he does not want to be right in the middle and also does not want to be too wide or too close to the rail with Vekoma.
“You don't want to be in the middle, but you don't want to be in the one hole and you don't want to be in [post] 20,” Castellano said. “I think between four to seven or nine to 14 [is best].”
Castellano's 12 Derby mounts came aboard Bellamy Road [5th, 2005], Bwana Bull [15th, 2007], Big Truck [18th, 2008], Discreetly Mine [13th, 2010], Derby Kitten [13th, 2011], Gemologist [16th, 2012], Normandy Invasion [4th, 2013], We Miss Artie [10th, 2014], Materiality [6th, 2015], Destin [6th, 2016], Gunnevera [7th, 2017] and Audible [3rd, 2018].
Bred in Kentucky by Alpha Delta Stable, Vekoma was purchased for $130,000 from the Lanes End consignment at the 2017 Keeneland September Yearling Sale and is out of the Grade 1-winning Speightstown broodmare Mona de Momma. He is owned by Gastas Stables and R A Hill Stable and will be giving Weaver, a Louisville native, his second Derby starter after saddling Tencendur to finish 17th in 2015.
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