Thoroughbred Industry Employee Awards Make Dreams Come True

The Life
Saul Castellanos (second from left) received a Thoroughbred Industry Employee Award for Leadership in Racing in 2019
Saul Castellanos (third from left) received a Thoroughbred Industry Employee Award for Leadership in Racing in 2019 (Mathea Kelley/Courtesy of Godolphin)

When Saul Castellanos worked for trainer D. Wayne Lukas in the 1980s, he used to ride in the horse van between Churchill Downs and Keeneland. Peering out the truck windows, he would see the white fences and seemingly endless pastures of Calumet Farm – the legendary expanse of land that raised eight Kentucky Derby winners and two Triple Crown legends. Calumet’s accolades have been sung in hundreds of newspapers, weathered book pages, and woven into the history of Thoroughbred racing, and images of the farm during those trips have stuck in Castellanos’ mind over the years.

In 2019, after nearly 30 years living outside of Kentucky, Castellanos drove in the gates of Calumet Farm for a dinner honoring the winners of the Thoroughbred Industry Employee Awards (TIEA), presented by Godolphin and partners.

“I never thought I could be there one day,” said Castellanos, who received the Leadership in Racing Award. “And not just to be there, but as someone nominated for these awards. I was in tears… I was like oh my gosh, dreams come true.”

Castellanos speaks highly of his time with the Hall of Famer, nicknamed “The Coach.” He recalls spending time around the 1988 Kentucky Derby-winning filly Winning Colors, who he called “tough” and “the real deal.”

One by one, he named industry colleagues who hot-walked, rode, groomed, and learned their way through the Lukas barn: “Todd Pletcher, Dallas Stewart, Kiaran McLaughlin, Mark Hennig… Good horsemen came from that barn.”

Castellanos has worked as an assistant to trainer Mark Hennig for well over 20 years, and Hennig nominated him for TIEA.   

Saul Castellanos accepts his TIEA award.
Saul Castellanos accepts his TIEA award. (Mathea Kelley, courtesy of Godolphin)

After a stint with another trainer and a hiatus from the track to work for a bank, Castellanos joined Hennig’s training stable as a hot-walker. A few days later, he was asked to fill in for a barn foreman going on a leave of absence. The employee never came back, thus beginning Castellanos’ five years as one of Hennig’s foremen. Through an equally happenstance situation, he was promoted to assistant and sent to Saratoga with the advice from Hennig: “You’re ready.”  

Castellanos says working for Mark Hennig Racing is like “working with my family,” and that to be nominated for TIEA, much less win an award, was an amazing acknowledgement of his years dedicated to this racing family. He reflected on the greater picture – the thousands who comprise the Thoroughbred industry workforce; whose alarms screech daily in the early hours of the morning to assure that horses are properly cared for.

“I see so many people who would be great candidates [for the awards],” Castellanos said. “There are a lot of people who should be nominated. We need to motivate people. We need exciting things to happen right now.”

For 22-year-old Devon Dougherty from Philadelphia, Pa., winning the 2018 TIEA Newcomer Award was the impetus for her upcoming journey to Ireland with the incoming class of Godolphin Flying Start. The prestigious scholarship is a two-year international Thoroughbred industry management program, during which Dougherty will travel to five countries.

“I think that winning the TIEA Newcomer Award was instrumental in my journey into the Thoroughbred industry,” Dougherty said. “It opened many doors for me, and instilled a motivation within me to keep learning and progressing my career in the industry. To have such a recognition and honor for being a newcomer in the business was a reiteration that I have potential to excel.”

TIEA categories include Administration, Dedication to Breeding, Dedication to Racing, Leadership in Breeding, Leadership in Racing, Thoroughbred Industry Community, and Newcomer. Each category includes a monetary prize to a winner and runner-up, and to the farm, stable, or industry organizations they work, honoring their fellow team members.

With the intention of fueling the learning trajectory of recipients, the Newcomer Award also includes a five-day educational trip to Dubai – one of the countries Dougherty will visit once again during Godolphin Flying Start. She views TIEA as a chance to increase the sport’s visibility in the public eye.

“The TIEA awards will help to educate the general public on how much industry workers care about horses, one another, and the sport as a whole,” Dougherty said.

“We’re trying to do everything we possibly can to make it easy for people to nominate,” said Katie LaMonica, Charities Manager for Godolphin USA. She emphasized a new option to call in nominations, enabling potential nominators to ask questions directly and have their nomination recorded for them. Nominations can also be submitted electronically, completed manually, or submitted via audio or video file, and are accepted in Spanish or English.

“Especially in a year like this when we are in a full labor crisis, and if you have a good employee, why not nominate them and let them feel valued and celebrate the good workers we have and use them as examples to other people potentially looking for jobs and careers?” LaMonica added.

Anyone can nominate anyone – a supervisor or employee, hard-working best friend, devoted spouse, or a dedicated work colleague. The deadline to nominate is Friday, August 14. Visit today.

newsletter sign-up

Stay up-to-date with the best from America's Best Racing!