Patience paying off for Castillo, Because He Can

by | Mar 7, 2017 | Breaking, Features, PA Racing, Pennsylvania, Racing, Top Stories

Because He Can

Because He Can won at Parx Racing in mid-February. Photo by Equi-Photo.

by Linda Dougherty

When Parx Racing trainer Michelle Castillo dropped the claim slip for Because He Can on behalf of Stephen Craig’s Logo Racing Stables last September, little did she realize that the $8,000 purchase would go on to make $80,000 in the span of a few months.

Yet the 5-year-old son of Colonel John not only stepped out of the claiming ranks to win four races for his new connections but also stamped himself as one of the best claims of 2016 at the Bensalem course.

Craig, a Holland, Pa. resident, had been looking to claim his first horse with Castillo, whom he found through the recommendation of his daughter’s riding instructor. An avid handicapper who enjoys vacationing at Saratoga each year, Craig noticed Because He Can had been entered Sept. 11, studied his past performances, and liked what he saw on paper. Unable to be at Parx that day, he asked Castillo to check out the gelding as well as another horse in the race, and use her best judgment as to which one to halter.

Castillo, a former jockey who operates a small, hands-on stable at Parx with her husband Freddy, recalls her decision to take Because He Can.

“He looked great in the paddock, and he had been running very consistently at a lower claiming level,” she said. “He broke his maiden at Laurel Park and then won the a-other-than allowance there, but afterwards had a long time off (from February, 2015 until January, 2016). The day we claimed him he didn’t run that well (a fifth-place effort), but we said, ‘Let’s see what we have.’”

Once back at the barn, Castillo saw that Because He Can was a very nervous horse in his stall.

“Sometimes a horse that has been in a big outfit can get a bit overlooked, so he’s a gotten lot of attention from us,” she said. “And out on the track in the morning we send him with the stable pony, and that’s really helped to keep him calm.”

The TLC that Castillo gave Because He Can had positive results immediately. Entered back for the same pricetag October 24, the gelding responded with a 5-½ length victory at odds of 17-1, and then successfully tackled starter allowance foes at Penn National November 12, a six furlong, $17,100 race that he led nearly all the way and “drew off with authority” down the stretch, the Equibase chart noted.

Because He Can made it three in a row December 17 when he faced tougher company in a $34,500 starter allowance at seven furlongs back at Parx. This time, he rallied from far back under his regular rider, apprentice Lery Pinero, to scoot up the rail and take the lead, winning by two lengths on the muddy track.

The gelding began 2017 with a narrow loss in a similar starter allowance at 6-½ furlongs January 2, and then encountered trouble when he ran back Jan. 30, also in a starter allowance, to finish seventh.

Because He Can found the winner’s circle for the first time this year Feb. 18, defeating 10 rivals in an exciting 6-½ furlong, $37,100 starter in which he rallied wide on the turn, angled to the rail down the lane, and then surged inside the eighth pole to win by 1-¼ lengths.

Because He Can win photo. Owner Stephen Craig is third from left in jeans and black shirt, and Michelle Castillo is to his left, in black vest and hat. Photo by Equi-Photo.

Because He Can win photo. Owner Stephen Craig is third from left in jeans and black shirt, and Michelle Castillo is to his left, in black vest and hat. Photo by Equi-Photo.

From six starts for Craig’s Logo Stables, he earned $80,110, a very profitable investment.

“This horse always tries hard,” said Craig, who also owns the veteran campaigner Good Feng Shui, who’s trained by Ron Abrams. “And Michelle (Castillo) has just done an awesome job with him.”

Because He Can is one of the better horses developed by Castillo since she left her previous career as an international jockey to become a trainer beginning in 2010.

The North Canton, Ohio native began riding at Thistledown as an apprentice in 1993 under her maiden name Michelle Luttrell, and made a successful transition to the New York circuit that winter, where she became the leading apprentice at the 1993-94 Aqueduct winter meet and Belmont Park spring meet, riding first call for the late Peter Ferriola, who put her on many live mounts.

At the conclusion of 1994, Castillo had compiled an impressive record, winning 65 races and earning $1,434,925. But after losing her “bug,” or apprentice weight allowance, she became homesick for Ohio, and returned there, eventually marrying jockey Freddy Castillo and becoming a mother to Amanda, born in 1998.

She and her husband then rode in New England, and subsequently made the decision to move their tack to Chile, as Freddy’s older brother, Richard, had been riding there.

“When we arrived in Chile in 1999, there were no women jockeys,” recalled Castillo. “I became one of the first, and was very fortunate to do well there. I hope I opened some doors for other female riders.”

Castillo became somewhat of a sensation in Chile while riding at racecourses Hipodromo Chile and Club Hipico de Santiago. The Castillos even entered the thoroughbred racing record books after a race in which they finished in a dead heat, the first husband-and-wife to ever do so.

But in March, 2003, Michelle Castillo was severely injured during a 20-horse race at Club Hipico, suffering three fractured ribs and a fractured skull. The board of stewards decided not to penalize the jockey that triggered the accident, so the Castillos decided to move back to the United States.

After recovering from her injuries, Castillo returned to riding but decided to hang up her tack in 2008, retiring with a record of 249 victories from 2,286 starts, and $3.3 million in purse earnings. She’s added 28 wins and $875,375 in purse earnings as a trainer.