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A New Face in Town

It is a long way from Canovanas, Puerto Rico to Shakopee, and for Carlos Castro the trip was more circuitous than is usually the case. It began in Philadelphia 11 years ago, detoured to Charles Town for a decade and then went to Chicago last year.

It was in Chicago that Castro was given the last leg of the trip that would lead him to Canterbury Park for the first time this summer.

It seems he was supposed to hook up with a fellow proposed as his agent in the Windy City but then something inexplicable occurred and the arrangement didn’t take place.

“I don’t know what it was, but he was supposed to be my agent and then something happened,” Castro recalled, detailing events in a clipped Puerto Rican accent.

Not to worry, the fellow in question would not hustle horses for Castro but he did have some advice a man could take to the bank: Give Canterbury Park in Minnesota a try; you’ll like it.

The fellow dishing out the advice?

The answer to that question is proposed in the form of the jockey quiz seen frequently on the giant screen in the infield:

A. Abraham Lincoln, former American president.

B. George W Bush, also a former president.

C. Pat Cuccurullo, former three-time training champ at Canterbury Park.

For those lagging behind, the correct answer is C, Pat Cuccurullo, who won training titles here from 1989 through 1991.

“He told me I would like it here,” Castro said Thursday night.

Was he right?

“Oh, yes, it is a very nice place,” Castro added.

Castro, 30, was here at the start of the meet, winning a race on opening day, but disappeared in the last month. He was off to an encouraging start but suffered a broken collar bone in a spill a month ago after getting off to an 8-8-8 start with 75 mounts.

He was back in the saddle on Thursday night after working some horses on Wednesday, when he tested his arm and shoulder and felt just fine. He couldn’t find a way to reach the winner’s circle in three mounts on Thursday, but got there in the first race on Friday, piloting a very tired Senorita Catrina in just ahead of Scrabblecat.

Castro likes Shakopee well enough that he worked diligently with Mother Nature to beat the worst case prognosis for his return by three weeks. “The doctor say that it be four to seven weeks,” Castro explained. “It was four.”

He wanted to make certain he had time this summer to establish a reputation at Canterbury and to make business contacts for next season. “I wanted people to know I am OK,” he added.

Racing horses apparently is in his blood. His father, Carlos, had a number of horses in Puerto Rico and Carlos, Jr., used to race against the neighborhood kids in the streets. His father told him since he liked racing so much he should go to jockey school. Carlos, jr. agreed.

If you are Puerto Rican and you want to be a professional rider, there is only one way. You must attend jockey school for two years.

Yet, there is no guarantee that will even occur. The odds, in fact, aren’t very good.

As Castro explained it, only 12 participants are chosen each year for the school from as many as 300 hopefuls.

He was one of the 12 the year he applied.

And the school is tough, demanding.

“You must weigh in every day,” Castro explained. “You must be 104 or less every day.”

A rider who exceeds that limit three times in two years gets the boot.

“Very tough,” Castro added.

School is in session six days a week, although Saturdays are limited to working horses in the morning. The rest of the week keeps a 5 a.m. to 2 p.m. schedule of grooming and working horses mornings and watching films of race riding that often depicts the dangerous aspect of riding afternoons. “They show you bad accidents, what can happen to jockeys,” Castro said.

Sounds a bit like driving safety classes in American high schools.

Castro has two brothers and a sister, but only he is involved in racing, although his father watches whenever his son is racing at a track with TVG coverage he can pick up in Puerto Rico.

Castro returns home to Puerto Rico whenever he can, although he now considers the U.S. his home. He has a wife, Stephanie, and eight-year-old, daughter, Carlena.

They visited earlier this summer and will return for another visit in the next week or two. Carlena quickly became enamored of Valley Fair. Stephanie had a preference for shopping at the Mall of America.

Although they have a home in Charlestown, Carlos hopes to make Shakopee his home during the summer months in the coming years.

This blog was written by Canterbury Staff Writer Jim Wells. Wells was a longtime sportswriter at the Pioneer Press and is a member of the Canterbury Park Hall of Fame.

Photo Credit: Coady Photography