Elaine Castillo is a jockey I got to know briefly when she rode at Phila Park. Elaine is now riding at Finger Lakes and I got her on the phone for this interesting chat:
FOTH: Where were you born and where did you grow up?
EC: I was born and raised in Mexico City. I was there for 13 in a half years and then I moved to Michigan where I went to high school. I graduated high school in Muskegon, MI.
FOTH; Do you miss Mexico much or are you pretty much happy living in the states now?
EC: I am very happy living in the states, but I do miss Mexico and it is a good place to go visit, but it is not a place I would choose to live again. It is a huge city with a lot of violence and it is a great city to go visit. I was just there. During my time off I went to Mexico to go visit my dad who still lives there. So I had a great time.
FOTH: Do you have any brothers or sisters?
EC: Yes, I have an older brother and he is 30 years old. He lives in Texas.
FOTH: What does your parents and your brother think of you being a jockey?
EC: My parents and my brother, they totally support me. They are very proud of me and get super excited when I ride. My dad, mother, and brother they watch me race over the internet. Of course they worry about the risk that is involved with it, but they are behind me 100%.
FOTH: When you were a young girl did you know you wanted to become a jockey?
EC: I have always loved horses and have been riding ever since I was 8 years old. I remember a long time ago, even before I began riding horses, somebody asked me 'what do you want to be when you grow up?' and I said 'I want to be a jockey' without even knowing I was gonna ride horses or anything. I did always know I wanted to do something with horses and being a jockey turned out to be it.
FOTH: What even or events actually led to you becoming a jockey?
EC: When I was Muskegon, MI I was riding jumpers and I actually had a horse that I used to show and jump and the race track that is there, Great Lake Downs (my favorite-chris) had just opened up and at that same time my horse had died and then I was in the process of trying to get into the racetrack so i could learning how to gallop and then my horse died, so it was just a combo and I just stuck to it.
FOTH: Did you actually ride any races while at Great Lake Downs?
EC: Yes, that is where I started riding, in September of 2003.
FOTH: What did you think of the track as it is a small track, not a typical one mile size track.
EC: Well, I learned how to gallop there and it is kinda like driving a stick, if you can drive a stick, you can pretty much drive anything. It was a good learning experience, but it is much better to ride at a 1 mile track, in my opinion. The turns are so much easier. I am glad that I learned on it so that if I ever decide to go back to a smaller track I have already had that experience.
FOTH: Did you get a lot of trainers and jockeys helping you out while at Great Lake Downs?
EC: I had quite a few people, but it really hard being a woman jockey cause you never know if they are trying to help you really ride or they want something more, you know how that goes Chris. I had a lot of jockey friends I know from out there and some trainers too.
FOTH: Did you get to know Mary Doser at all while you were out there?
EC: Yes, I did. She helped me out a lot with the riding and my equipment I needed. She is a great lady and I really like her. She was also very nice and helpful to me. I have known her ever since I started.
FOTH: Tell us a bit about your 1st race. Was it at Great Lake Downs?
EC: Yes. It actually wasn't the best experience I have had riding because um the horse I had, after she broke out of the gate she kinda jumped up in the air and my hands slipped out of the mames and I went backwards and I almost fell off (laughs). I was pretty sacred and I didn't have my reigns gathered up and she was going right into the crowd and I was yelling for the people to give me a break and of course they did. I made it and that is all I wanted to do was make it around here. It was kinda a scary experience because of the beginning and how I broke out of the gate.
FOTH: Tell us about your 1st win.
EC: That was here at Tampa Bay Downs. That was my 1st race that I rode here in Tampa. I just won. I won real easy and my horse broke out of the last hole and he just started gaining on them and gaining on them and I barely had to touch him and he flew by everybody and I won by quite a few lengths. It was like a dream. I couldn't believe I won.
FOTH: Did the jockeys get you after the race?
EC: Oh yeah. Eggs, water and powder. Yeah I got all that.
FOTH: What made you go from Great Lake Downs to Tampa Bay Downs?
EC: Well this is my 3rd year down at Tampa Bay and I was down here before galloping, this was even before I really thought about being a jockey. I knew a lot of people from Great Lakes came down here (Tampa Bay Downs) and I figured Tampa Bay would be a good place to get experience before I even go my bug so that is exactly what I did. I came down here to get some experience before my bug started, before I won my 5th race.
FOTH: How long did you ride at Tampa Bay for?
EC: Pretty much the whole meet. I started January 11th and stayed there till the end of the meet.
FOTH: Ok now I know you went to Finger Lakes. What made you decide to go there? Was it because some trainers go up there after Tampa closes?
EC: Yeah I few told me about the place and told me it would be a great place to go for a "bug" and I said great I'll go up there and give it a shot and I started doing great and I won my 1st race I rode there too.
FOTH: Did you visit the slot machine area at all while you were up there?
EC: Yes I did. I didn't really play or anything, but I wanted to go see what it is like. It is really neat they did a pretty good job with them.
FOTH: What made you deiced to come to Philadelphia Park after Finger Lakes?
EC: Before I went to Finger Lakes I was deciding between Finger Lakes and Philadelphia Park. I almost went to Phila and I had always been interested in going to Phila because I have heard great things about Phila. I heard that "bugs" do really great there during the winter and I figured I'd give it a shot. Unfortunately it didn't work out that way.
FOTH: Compare the tracks a little bit. What is the biggest difference between them in your opinion?
EC: Finger Lakes there is not that many people there and there is not that many jockeys. I don't want to put anybody down, but the competition isn't as high as say Phila or Tampa cause you get a lot of good riders at those 2. Finger Lakes you can make lots of really good friends quick and I think that's a difference and I would say Tampa and Phila are pretty comparable.
FOTH: How long do you plan on riding for?
EC: I would like to ride for at least 10 years. I don't want to be 50 and still riding races. I would like it to be 10 years or a little less.
FOTH: What are some hobbies and things you like to do when your away from the racetrack?
EC: I love to dance. I am part Latino, so I love Latin music. I love going to the beach and getting a tan. I like a lot of outdoor activities and hanging out with people. The movies I like. I don't practice really any other sports.
FOTH: If a young girl came up to you and wanted to become a jockey, what advise would you give her?
EC: I would tell her not to give up cause It's not easy being a woman. You have to be strong and you have to put up with a lot of crap from men especially. Just be strong and not listen to the negative stuff and to listen to good people that try to help them. You have to figure out what advice is good and not good. You grow smarter the longer your around the track and you'll learn how to take care of yourself. Don't get discouraged. Many people have told me the same thing and you know and it's totally true.
FOTH: Have you had any injuries yet?
EC: No I have not. I have a little pains and falls, but I have not have any broken bones and I hope to never have any, but you always have to be aware of the risk.
FOTH: Takes us through what you do in a typical day?
EC: I get up around 5:15 am and I go around and gallop horses. At Finger Lakes I was galloping 10-12 horses a day. Then you go visit the barns and all the usual people you would go visit. Then I would go home and if I have time I'll take a nap or eat something very light and then I will go to the racetrack and sign in and then you get ready and get dressed. I do my hair and make sure my weight is ok and then I go for my 1st race, weigh myself and go and put my colors on and we head on down.
FOTH: Do you have any short term or long term goals for yourself?
EC: Of course I would love to be a successful jockey. I would hope to do as well as I am doing now after I lose my "bug". Another goal I had was to go back to school and I love animals and I would love something in the veterinarian field, like a vet technician or something like that I would love to do a few years from now.
FOTH: Looking back was becoming a jockey easier or harder than you thought and do you have any problems with your weight?
EC: I am pretty small, I'm 4'10, so I really struggle too much, but I have been overweight and have had to go down my eating and dieting. It was mainly when I had my 10 pound allowance, but eventually you learn what you have to do and me being a woman and being so small right now I don't have any problems. Once I lost my 10 pound 'bug' I was all set.
FOTH: Is there any tracks you would like to ride at one day?
EC: I would love to go California. I never been over that way, but I would love to go visit the place and ride at Santa Anita or something. Belmont or Saratoga would be nice too.
FOTH: Is there any one day or thing that sticks out in your mind as being special?
EC: Yeah I remember at Finger Lakes and my dad was up visiting from Mexico City and he saw me ride and that was the 1st day I had ever won 3 races in one day, so that was really exciting and it had been so long since he had seen me and seen me ride. It just made me feel great cause I know he is proud of me and that was be great for him to be able to see that and get in the winner's circle picture.
FOTH: Elaine I am out of questions. Anything you want to say to wrap this up?
EC: Well, nothing I can thing of at the moment. (laughs)
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