by Najja Thompson
The New York Racing Association, (NYRA) Inc. has announced Javier Castellano as the 2019 recipient of the Mike Venezia Award, the prestigious honor awarded to jockeys who exemplify extraordinary sportsmanship and citizenship.
The Venezia Award will be presented to Castellano on Memorial Day, Monday, May 27 in a ceremony at Belmont Park.
Established in 1989, the award is named in honor of jockey Mike Venezia, who died as a result of injuries he suffered in a spill in 1988 at Belmont Park. Venezia, a Brooklyn native, won more than 2,300 races during his 25-year career.
Castellano, 41 was selected as the 2019 winner through an online fan vote hosted on NYRA.com that closed on May 20. The field of candidates included brothers Irad Ortiz, Jr. and Jose Ortiz, Florent Geroux, and Ricardo Santana, Jr.
Inducted to the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame in 2017, Castellano who was born in Venezuela and moved to the United States in June 1997, has been among the leading riders in New York and the nation winning four consecutive Eclipse Awards as Outstanding Jockey from 2013-16. He has won 12 riding titles on the NYRA circuit and is routinely among the top riders in earnings, registering more than $22 million in 2018.
Castellano also holds the record for most wins in the Travers, the "Mid-Summer Derby", with six wins including Bernardini (2006), Afleet Alex (2010), Stay Thirsty (2011), V.E. Day (2014), Keen Ice (2015), and most recently with Catholic Boy in 2018.
In addition to his accomplishments on the track, Castellano has also been a leading spokesman and representative for the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund, an independent charitable organization that provides financial assistance to jockeys who have suffered catastrophic on-track injuries. Castellano also spends time volunteering by visiting children's hospitals including Ronald McDonald House and the Belmont Park backstretch organization Anna House, a full-scale early childhood education facility located on track offering affordable childcare for backstretch families.
The first Venezia Award was awarded posthumously to Venezia in 1989. Previous winners of the award include Joe Bravo (2018), Kendrick Carmouche (2017), Mario Pino (2016), Jon Court (2015), Hall of Famer John Velazquez (2014) and Hall of Famer Ramon Dominguez (2013).