BALTIMORE — After Shackleford lost the lead and finished fourth in the Kentucky Derby, trainer Dale Romans never thought twice about giving Jesus Castanon a second chance to win a Triple Crown race.
At the Preakness on Saturday, the talented jockey justified the decision with an outstanding ride that produced a stunning upset victory.
Castanon kept Shackleford near the front for much of the race, then held off a late charge by Derby-winner Animal Kingdom to win his first Triple Crown race. When he reached the finish line, Castanon thought immediately about his father, who died in November.
"It was very emotional," Castanon said. "I know he was up there watching me."
At that point, Castanon became choked up and couldn't continue to speak.
"It totally means a lot," he said of the victory. "My dad used to have horses in Mexico and that's how I became a jockey."
And now he's a Triple Crown race winner. Castanon couldn't hold the lead in the Derby, but Romans knew there was no one better to ride his horse.
"If you ask anyone, they will tell you he is one of the best riders we have on the back side," Romans said of Castanon. "He's like a critically acclaimed movie that didn't make it as a big hit. Everyone knows he has the talent; he gave us the best chance to win a classic race."
In the Derby, Shackleford led from the start before fading to fourth. In the Preakness, Castanon settled in behind pacesetting Flashpoint, took the lead at the back stretch and wouldn't relinquish it.
"I knew that Animal Kingdom was the only horse who was able to get me," Castanon said.
Two weeks earlier, Animal Kingdom caught up to Shackleford.
This time, Castanon wouldn't be denied.
One year earlier, Romans surprised almost everyone at the Preakness by finishing second with First Dude and sixth with Paddy O'Prado. In the encore, he did even better.
"It's unbelievable. It's phenomenal," Romans said. "We had a lot of claiming horses, the cheapest of the cheap. If you keep doing it long enough and you get the right horses in your hands, anybody can do it. It just takes everybody working together to get this done. It's unbelievable when it comes together."
Perhaps the only person at Pimlico happier than Romans was the 38-year-old Castanon, who gave full credit to his boss and owners Michael Lauffer and W.D. Cubbedge for the most thrilling moment of his racing career.
"First, I want to thank the owners and Mr. Dale. They have done a heck of a good job," Castanon said. "If it wasn't for them, I don't think I would be standing here."
It was as unlikely and satisfying a Triple Crown victory for the 44-year-old Romans.
"I've won some big races, but none as exciting as that one," he said.
Especially after Shackleford shimmied in the gate and worked up a sweat before taking a single step in the race.
"He's been like that before all his races," Romans said. "He was a little hot, but he wasn't acting that bad and it's a hot day. It didn't take much out of him."
Castanon added, "He's a good horse and able to handle it. I was confident all the way around."