Castrenze begins comeback as wiser, more confident rider


A year ago this Saturday, apprentice rider Ashley Castrenze won at Tampa Bay Downs with her first mount. On Friday, in the seventh race at Laurel Park, she will restart her career following a six-month injury-related layoff.

Few apprentices begin their journey like Castrenze. Tom Proctor put her on two winners at Tampa to start out last April. She then came north and won two races at Penn National for trainer Mark Reid in mid-May. After finishing third in a race at Monmouth Park, Castrenze won twice on the opening-day card at Delaware Park to improve her record to six wins from seven rides.

“The fast start was good because it got my name out there, but it hurt me a little, too,” Castrenze said. “I started my bug year sooner than I was really ready. I didn’t know what I was doing out there, and I made some mistakes, and that got some people mad.”

But Castrenze persevered and finished ninth in the Delaware Park standings with 29 wins from 209 mounts. In total, she has 47 wins from 329 mounts, a win average of 14 percent.

“I struggled a little at the beginning of Delaware, but then something kind of clicked, and I think I made a lot of progress,” Castrenze said. “I began feeling stronger on a horse, and more comfortable, and more confident.”

But on Oct. 16, the day after Delaware closed, Castrenze’s mount in the seventh race at Laurel broke down nearing the top of the stretch in a turf race. Two other horses went down in the spill, and Castrenze broke four ribs on her left side.

“The ribs gave me trouble for a while,” Castrenze said. “I kept going to doctors thinking they would clear me to ride, and they kept saying, ‘Give it another month.’ ”

Castrenze, 20, has patiently prepared for her comeback. She has received an extension on her apprenticeship that will carry her through the end of the year.

“I’m ready,” she said. “I’ve been working horses since the last week in January – first at Parx, Pimlico, and Laurel, and lately at Fair Hill a lot. I’ve been working with a personal trainer, and I feel really good. I feel strong.”

Castrenze has worked horses for Kieron Magee and will ride Minor Legend for him Friday. She said she also has been getting on horses for Reid, Kate Demasi, Graham Motion, Hamilton Smith, and Mike Trombetta.

Castrenze’s agent is Mark Mace. Their plan is to ride at Laurel, Parx, and Penn National and then be based at Delaware Park when the meet begins June 3. Their goal is to be one of the leading riders at Delaware this summer.

“There’s also the Eclipse Award if we can get going good,” Castrenze said. “I still have more than seven months with the bug.”