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Garden City jockey races way to Kentucky Derby

Gemologist, ridden by Javier Castellano, crosses the finish line first during the Wood Memorial. Photo by Christina Santucci
TimesLedger Newspapers

Thousands of horse racing enthusiasts from the city and beyond converged on Aqueduct Racetrack Saturday to watch Gemologist and his jockey, Garden City, L.I., native Javier Castellano, take top honors at the Wood Memorial.

As winner, Gemologist will compete in the Kentucky Derby as will runner-up Alpha, ridden by Elkton, Md.’s Ramon Dominguez.

“It’s a beautiful race to see,” said 80-year-old Bronx resident Albert Smith, who came to the South Ozone Park track for the prestigious race.

The Wood Memorial Stakes is a race for 3-year-old thoroughbred horses and one of five that lead up to the Triple Crown races: the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes. The race is named after Eugene Wood, a politician and one of the founders of the Jamaica Race Course, which existed from 1903-59 at the current site of Rochdale Village.

Many who came to the racetrack for the blue skies and hopefully a lucky ticket were there for the Wood Memorial, and some predicted which horse would be the winner accurately. Odds on Gemologist to win were 6-5 and those who put a $2 bet on him to win won $4.40, the New York Racing Association said.

Anthony Hall, 55, of Flatbush, Brooklyn, said he believed Gemologist would win, although he thought Alpha and My Adonis, ridden by Hollywood, Calif., jockey Elvis Trujillo, had a chance at winning.

“Horse racing is so exciting,” Hall said. “You meet good people. Majority of the time you meet good people.”

Dave Leslie, of Fort Greene, Brooklyn, thought it would be Alpha and My Adonis, but also gave Gemologist a good chance.

During the race, the cheers and whoops started as the horses lined up, stayed at a low ebb as the contenders ran around the track and became a roar as Gemologist surged ahead and passed the finish line.

“We found out that the horse is as good as he’s advertised,” said Peter Kisfauludi, 58, who came from Manhattan for the race.

Dominguez rode Alpha to second while Leslie and Hall’s other possibility, My Adonis, ended up placing seventh. Teeth of the Dog and his jockey, Joe Bravo, of Eatontown, N.J., placed third.

Gemologist’s owner won $600,000 for his win, while Alpha’s owner earned $200,000, NYRA said.

Yet while the Wood Memorial brought out horse racing enthusiasts, others were just there to enjoy the day.

“It’s fun,” said 16-year-old Monica Robbins, “but I wish I was winning.”

This was the first time the Wood Memorial had been held since the Resorts World Casino opened, and some visitors said they were happy with the addition.

“I think it’s going to be good for them,” said 62-year-old Woodhaven resident John Spinelli.

Leslie was similarly enthusiastic about Aqueduct’s new neighbor.

“The casino is great,” he said.

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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