Hall-of-Fame jockey Javier Castellano announced on Twitter Thursday that he’s tested positive for COVID-19, making him the first US rider known to have a coronavirus infection.

Javier Castellano
Javier Castellano is one of the best, big-race riders in the country. Now, as the first prominent jockey to test positive for COVID-19, he becomes the unwilling face of the pandemic in his sport. (Image: Getty Images)

The initial announcement came via a tweet by his agent, John Panagot who said Gulfstream Park required Castellano to take a physical. He took a test for COVID-19 on Tuesday and the results came back Thursday.

Castellano had just returned to South Florida from New York, the current US epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak. His last ride came March 15 at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas. But Castellano did ride the day before, with New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton an Oaklawn spectator. Payton has since tested positive for COVID-19.

Panagot’s tweet said Castellano was asymptomatic and jogged three miles Wednesday. He was on the schedule to ride four races Thursday, and 12 of Saturday’s 14 races at Gulfstream Park. Those rides included Candy Tycoon in the Grade 1 Florida Derby and Spice is Nice in the Grade 2 Gulfstream Oaks.

Instead, the four-time Eclipse Award winner for Outstanding Jockey will “self-isolate until he is medically cleared,” Panagot said.

One of Horse Racing’s Biggest Names

The news that Castellano, 42, tested positive sent shockwaves through the Gulfstream racing community. In addition to his Eclipse Awards, Castellano ranked among the top-three jockeys in North American earnings for nine consecutive years. His success has earned him a reputation as one of the best, big-race riders in the country.

So from a prominence standpoint, horse racing now has its first high-profile COVID-19 case.

The diagnosis cast an unwelcome spotlight on Gulfstream Park — one of a few major tracks still racing, albeit without spectators. Gulfstream found itself in the coronavirus crosshairs earlier this week. Hallandale Beach Vice Mayor Sabrina Javellana has been pressuring track officials to follow a county order that calls for all non-essential businesses to close.

“One of the jockeys (that had planned) on racing in this weekend’s Florida Derby has tested positive for #COVID19,” Javellana tweeted on Thursday. “I will hope for his recovery and that Gulfstream Park reevaluates continuing to race especially as South Florida is a hotspot. Many tracks/major races have been postponed.”

Racing Continues at Gulfstream

After a one-day hiatus on Friday, March 20, Gulfstream continued racing without spectators. Only participating horsemen, racing officials, and necessary track staff may venture on site.

During that hiatus, Gulfstream officials instituted safety protocols that include mandatory physicals for jockeys who have traveled anywhere, daily temperature checks, and a six-foot spacing between lockers in the jockeys’ dressing room.