Freddy and Michelle Castillo rode together at several different tracks around the country and, for a few years, in Chile. Now, they train horses together every day at Parx.
Freddy started his riding career in 1991 at what was then Philadelphia Park. Michelle Luttrell began her jockey’s career in 1993 when she was the hottest apprentice in New York.
A few years later, they ended up at Thistledown, the race track southeast of Cleveland and not all that far from where Michelle grew up in Canton, Ohio. They knew each other for about a year before they began a relationship.
“We just hit it off,’’ Michelle said. “We had so much in common. We just got along so well. We know what we wanted to do. The rest is history, 23 years later.’’
The Castillos have a daughter Amanda, now 20.
When they were jockeys, they never rode “against’’ each other, Freddy said.
“We always rooted for each other, if she won or I won, it was always a house win,’’ Freddy said. “It would be like rooting against yourself.’’
The perfect ending was a race in Chile when they finished in a dead heat for the win, likely the only time in history a husband and wife have been in a dead heat.
“Michelle had a lot of success in Chile,’’ Freddy said. “She became famous in Chile.’’
Then riding as Michelle Castillo, she was a novelty because there were almost no female jockeys at the two tracks in Santiago. She also won – a lot.
“I won the very first day,’’ Michelle said. “It was just like a phenomenon. Here I was this blonde-haired, blue-eyed American girl coming (to Chile) and beating these men. I got an opportunity to ride a lot of nice horses. My first year, I was third in the nation. It was amazing.’’
They were in Chile during the early 2000s before returning to the states. When their riding careers ended, they returned to where Freddy’s riding career began – at Parx.
“It’s year-round racing,’’ Freddy said. “That makes your life a lot easier as a family. All the benefits that the horsemen get here…How about all the people that came from Boston? We have a ton of those people. We rode up there for a few years and we’re friends with all those people. The slots saved their careers. For us, it was a life changer because we get to stay here year-round instead of being gypsies.’’
The Castillos have 12 horses in their barn at the moment so they are able to make a nice living.
“It’s nice to have horses that can get you a piece of those (big) purses,’’ Michelle said. “It really goes a long way.’’
Indeed, the Castillos have come a long way. In his 15-year riding career, Freddy had 5,246 North American mounts with 703 wins and purse earnings of $6.5 million. Michelle, who also rode for 15 years, had 249 wins from 2,286 mounts and purse earnings of $3.3 million.
Michelle is the trainer of record, Freddy her assistant. But it is definitely a team. Michelle has started 471 horses with 37 wins and $1.1 million in earnings during a training career that really got started in 2012. In 2018, she has 17 in-the-money finishes from just 28 starters, a strong strike rate.
And they are at Parx to stay, gypsies no longer, the attractive purses and year-round racing a great incentive to establish roots in the community for years to come.
-By Dick Jerardi