OLDSMAR, FL. – Mid-Atlantic journeywoman Carol Cedeno had mixed feelings when trainer Kerri Raven encouraged her to join the Tampa Bay Downs jockey colony this season.
“She’s always been telling me to come to Tampa, that I would do well,” said Cedeno, a six-time riding champion at Delaware Park who last competed here on a regular basis during the 2013-2014 meet. “And my agent (Mark Mace) told me almost every day I had to come here. But I was a little worried because I have to support my kids (a 14-year-old daughter and a 12-year-old son) and I know how tough Tampa is.”
After receiving assurances from other trainers such as McLean Robertson, Juan Arriagada and Chelsey Moysey that she is welcome in their barns, Cedeno decided to take flight, leaving her offspring in good hands with her mother and sister so they could remain with their schoolmates.
Since arriving at her old stomping grounds and getting a feel for the place, Cedeno has bolstered the confidence that has enabled her to ride 1,256 career winners.
“Really, I like everything about being here,” said Cedeno, who is named to ride five horses on Wednesday’s nine-race Opening Day card, which begins at 12:38 p.m. The program, which includes six races on the main track and three on the turf course, has attracted 101 entrants.
“Some of the jockeys I knew when I was here before – Antonio Gallardo, Jose Ferrer, Willie Martinez – have received me very well, and everybody here is very friendly.
“The competition is going to be tough. There are a lot of excellent jockeys here, and I didn’t expect to get named on five horses,” Cedeno said. “So I’ve got more confidence that things are going to be OK. I don’t expect to be leading jockey, but I’m going to work hard in the mornings like I always do and try my best.”
Several dozen jockeys, and close to double that number of trainers, share Cedeno’s earnest enthusiasm and high hopes as the meet resumes after officially beginning on July 1, the second day of the Oldsmar oval’s annual Summer Festival of Racing.
An additional $5.5-million in overnight purse money has attracted the legions to the track’s 98th anniversary season. Wednesday’s featured eighth race, a 6-furlong allowance/optional claiming race on the main track, offers total purse money of $53,000, with 10 horses set to face the starter.
Cedeno is named to ride John Jay, a 4-year-old gelding trained by Patrick McBurney. The 5-2 morning-line favorite is 4-year-old Florida-bred gelding Yes I’m a Beast, trained by Rohan Chrichton and to be ridden by Edwin Gonzalez.
Admission on Wednesday is free. The track will be closed on Thursday, Thanksgiving Day, with racing set to continue Friday and Saturday. Tampa Bay Downs will race on a Wednesday-Friday-Saturday schedule before adding Sundays to the mix on Dec. 24.
Tampa Bay Downs is introducing a new “pocket program” for fans and bettors that will cost $2.25, a $1.50 savings from last year’s program cost. The slimmed-down program will include up to four lines of past performances for each horse. Additionally, the Daily Racing Form will sell for $8 and include past performances for Tampa Bay Downs and Gulfstream Park only (the cost will be $6 until Gulfstream Park begins Wednesday racing on Jan. 10).
The changes in program and DRF formats are designed to help patrons begin the action with a bigger wagering bankroll and to reduce the environmental impact of printing so many pages.
Many fans will be pleased to learn of the addition of a Pick-4 (a wager which requires bettors to select the winners of four consecutive races) on cards of nine or more races. Wednesday’s Pick-4s will begin with the second, third and sixth races.
On the outside, Tampa Bay Downs has replaced its traditional white wooden benches on the Grandstand apron with new, more comfortable benches.
Another major addition is “Champions Row,” a collection of three brand-new cabanas just beyond the finish line, to go with the nine cabanas that have been in use the past two seasons. Each of the “Champions Row” cabanas is named after an Eclipse Award champion to compete at Tampa Bay Downs: Not Surprising, the 1995 Champion Sprinter; Street Sense, the 2006 Champion 2-Year-Old Colt who won the 2007 Tampa Bay Derby and Kentucky Derby; and Tepin, the 2015 and 2016 Champion Grass Female and a Hall of Fame inductee.
“The tradition of outstanding racehorses competing at Tampa Bay Downs has been never-ending,” said Margo Flynn, the track’s Vice President of Marketing and Publicity. “These three champions established a standard of excellence future Thoroughbreds will strive to equal or even surpass.”