By David Joseph/Gulfstream Park
USA: Calling it “the biggest challenge of my life,” popular Hall of Fame jockey Javier Castellano has overcome being diagnosed with the coronavirus and praised Gulfstream Park for the track’s approach in keeping its horses, horsemen and personnel safe.
Castellano, 42, spent 14 days in quarantine at the South Florida home of his 64-year-old mother, where the four-time Eclipse Award-winning jockey had been since testing positive upon his arrival from New York to ride over Florida Derby weekend.
As part of strict protocols put into place by Gulfstream management, all riders who came in from out of town were required to be tested off-site before being allowed to ride. Castellano, who had not stepped foot on Gulfstream property since he last rode on March 15, received a positive result.
“I give credit to Gulfstream Park,” he said. “They set up procedures to follow because of the situation and enforced it. Whoever came in from out of town had to have a test; that’s the only way to ride.
“It was great because I would have never found out. I would have been fine, but maybe I would have contaminated a lot of people.
“I didn’t and, thank God, everything turned out great,” added Castellano, who has ridden 5,244 winners in North America (according to Equibase). Only John Velazquez has amassed more career prize-money.
“Of course, there were times when I questioned why it happened to me,” the rider went on. “But, everything happens for a reason and, thank God, he protected me and I’m back with my family and I feel great.”
The Venezuelan-born rider reported that he suffered few of the typical COVID-19 symptoms.
“The first day my throat was bothering me a little bit,” he explained. “Then I had a headache one day. Usually I don’t get headaches, and I told my wife. That’s the most I had. After that I didn’t have any symptoms. I didn’t have any fever. I didn’t have anything. I went the 14 days with nothing.
“I’ll be honest with you, the scariest part of this was mentally,” added Castellano. “It affected me mentally and emotionally a lot. It challenged me. It was the biggest challenge of my life.
“When they told me I came up positive, I couldn’t believe it. I said, ‘Are you sure that’s me?’ I had just gone running not even 24 hours before. I went running outside in Florida, 90 degrees, and I was fine. Three miles and I breathed good, I didn’t have any chest pain, I felt normal.
“They said I was lucky because they don’t see many cases like that. I was asymptomatic. They said you can carry but you don’t have any symptoms because you’re an athlete, I guess, you’re in good shape, but you can transfer to someone else.
“They make sure you’re in quarantine for 14 days, don’t go anywhere. I followed the procedure. But every time you go to sleep, you challenge yourself. In the beginning of my quarantine I would think, ‘Maybe it’s going to happen today’ or ‘Maybe it’s going to happen the next day.’
“I listened to the news, I read a lot of articles. It can turn around quick. All those kinds of things went through my mind. ‘Maybe tonight it’s going to happen to me.’ My heart started beating, because you don’t know.”
Castellano said his mother and his family are all in good health. After being tested twice more following quarantine, and without any commitments to ride at Gulfstream, Castellano returned to New York on Tuesday night once given clearance by health officials in Florida. He hopes to return to the irons the first weekend of May.
“Everything is good, thank God. I’m doing really well,” Castellano said. “I have my paper from the health department in Florida that I’m clear, I’m good to go I’m able to work and I’m not going to be infecting anybody and nobody can infect me. I’m ready to go. My body fought the virus already. I’m not contagious to anybody else and I’m not contagious myself.”