- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 21, 2011

BALTIMORE — Jesus Castanon doesn’t have the high profile of other jockeys like Calvin Borel or Animal Kingdom rider John Velazquez. But on Saturday, his story shone through like no one else’s.

Castanon’s father died of a kidney ailment back in November, so when the jockey and Shackleford captured the Preakness, his mind was immediately away from racing.

“When I came to the wire, he just came to me,” Castanon said. “I know he was up there watching me.”

It was an emotional scene in the moments after the victory as Castanon delivered a message in Spanish to his mother, who was watching back home in Mexico. Asked to translate into English, Castanon choked up.

“Hey mom, this is a very exciting race and I really dedicate this race for you,” he said. “And I know my dad is watching.”

Castanon later said his father was on dialysis but lasted only three years.

But the jockey’s triumph Saturday goes even beyond the touching dedication. This is his first Triple Crown victory — but not surprising to trainer Dale Romans.

“He’s like a critically-acclaimed movie that’s never made it as a big hit for some reason,” Romans said. “Everybody knows he has the talent; he just hasn’t had the opportunity.”

Romans and co-owners Mike Lauffer and Bill Cubbedge gave him that opportunity in the Kentucky Derby and then again in the Preakness. It was actually the first Triple Crown win for all of them — and a testament to not abandoning the plan.

“We’ve all stuck together with this horse,” Lauffer said. “We had a bad race or two, but we stuck with our team and it paid off.”

Sixth-largest crowd

Saturday featured the sixth-largest crowd to ever watch the Preakness at Pimlico: 107,398. The crowd, especially on the infield, was boisterous, and the Maryland Jockey Club was rewarded for its marketing campaign with the crowd.

“Kegasus,” a half-man, half-horse mascot who promotes partying before the race, was a success as this was the first time the crowd was over 100,000 since 1998 — the last time outside alcohol was permitted. Beer specials and musical acts Train and Bruno Mars helped this time.

The amount bet at the track — $76,376,689 — was also the seventh-largest in Preakness history.