News & Barn notes

Jockey Isaac Castillo Looking To Build Off Breakout Year When Monmouth Park’s 62-Day Meet Kicks Off May 7

April 29, 2022

Isaac Castillo isn’t sure if he – or anyone else – can de-throne Paco Lopez as the king of Monmouth Park’s jockey colony this summer, but the 24-year-old native of Panama is hoping the momentum from his breakout year in 2021 will carry over, starting with opening day on Saturday, May 7.

Lopez will be seeking a ninth Monmouth Park riding title (only Joe Bravo, with 13, has more) and is coming off a career year that saw him finish second nationally in wins. Lopez set career bests in wins (322) and earnings ($12,462,326) and easily topped the Monmouth Park standings with 110 winners a year ago.

Castillo leads another solid group of jockeys who will take aim at Lopez over the course of a 62-day meet that runs through Sunday, Sept. 18.

“You always want to set high goals,” said Castillo, who finished second in the Monmouth Park riding standings last year with 55 winners. “But Paco Lopez is very tough to beat, especially at Monmouth Park with all of the titles he has won. It’s a challenge. All I can do is keep working hard.”

Castillo’s career, which began in earnest in 2017, took a major step forward when he won 116 races and had earnings of $3,394,679 last year. Both were personal bests.

The byproduct of that success was getting better horses to ride as trainers took notice. Castillo rode in his first Grade 1 races last year (the Haskell Stakes and the United Nations, both at Monmouth Park) and won the biggest race of his career aboard Dakota Gold in the $500,000 Nownownow Stakes that capped last year’s meet.

After spending most of the winter riding at Tampa Bay Downs and some at Gulfstream, Castillo went to Oaklawn Park at the tail end of that meet, encouraged to do so by Dan Ward, the assistant to Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer.

Castillo will ride first call for Hollendorfer at Monmouth Park.

“It was a lot of fun riding at Oaklawn for trainers like Jerry Hollendorfer and Steve Asmussen,” Castillo said. “I’m thankful for these trainers giving me the opportunity to ride better horses.

“Last year made a big difference that I can see this year. I have more confidence.  I am riding better horses. Everything is better. It’s what you want as a jockey.

“I think I will get more opportunities this year at Monmouth, which means I have the chance to win more races. But catching Paco is going to be very difficult.”

Castillo will be in good company in that chase. Popular veteran Jose Ferrer returns to the jockey colony, which will also feature Geraldo Corrales, Hector Diaz Jr., Carlos Hernandez, Nik Juarez and Jomar Torres. Newcomers include Samy Camacho, currently the leading rider at Tampa Bay Downs, Ademar Santos, Jose Batista and Angel Rodriguez.