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Racing News

Published Apr 12, 2024
by Mike Henry
Boot Barn Trainer of the Month Alejandro Olais Mendieta and his wife Maria, who works at Tampa Bay Downs in concessions, with 4-year-old filly Sing Scat

Working 11 years for perennial track champion Gerald Bennett gave first-year Tampa Bay Downs trainer Alejandro Olais Mendieta sharp insight into the importance of dedication, attention to detail and recognizing each horse’s individual needs.

What being with Bennett didn’t teach Mendieta was how to deal with losing the first 64 races of his career.

A 36-year-old product of Cuernavaca, Mexico, Mendieta says he wasn’t discouraged by his slow start, even after he failed to win with his first 22 starters this season at the place where he helped Bennett win seven of his track-record nine titles.

“Sometimes I put them in the wrong race or AT the wrong distance, sometimes the horse got unlucky,” said Mendieta, who kept getting up every day at 4 a.m. to exercise most (if not all) of his 13 horses. “I always wanted to work around horses since I rode them through the trees when I was 10, so it wasn’t hard to stay positive.”

Mendieta – who won six races as an owner before launching his training career – achieved his breakthrough victory here on March 6 with Tayyara, a 4-year-old Florida-bred filly he’d claimed for owner Enrique Lopez for $8,000 from her previous start. Mendieta, his wife Maria and their daughters Alexia and Cristina celebrated with a cookout with friends after the day’s races.

A feel-good moment, to be sure. But to paraphrase late radio broadcaster Paul Harvey, here’s the rest of the story. …

Mendieta proceeded to win with six of his next 13 starters (including Lopez’s 9-year-old Florida-bred mare Calendula in today’s fourth race), charging to the Boot Barn Trainer of the Month honor in the award’s equivalent of a No. 15-seeded team winning the NCAA basketball championship.

Proud? Of course, but not as much as Maria, his wife of 12 years whose support remained unwavering even after Mendieta failed the trainer’s test last spring (Tampa Bay Downs steward Edward Cantlon says more than half of applicants fail the test on their first try).

“A lot of people didn’t believe in him. They said he was not going to make it,” said Maria, a concession stands employee at Tampa Bay Downs. “I told him not to get down – if he believed in himself, he’d be able to pass it, and he did the next time he took it” (at Belterra Park outside Cincinnati, where he began his training career last summer).

Naturally Mendieta is pleased by the recognition, but maybe no more so than his mentor, Bennett, who was delighted by the news.

“He’s been working for it a long time, and he deserves to have some success,” Bennett said. “He’s a good exercise rider who groomed horses for me, ran them, did everything that needed doing. He can come back on a horse and tell you to check something – maybe it’s off a little in front, whatever the case may be.

“He got on all of our tougher horses, and he’ll help other trainers with some that are hard to handle. I think when he started training he was running some of his horses a little too high (in class), but he’s learning to be a little less aggressive and entering them where they can win,” Bennett added.

Mendieta owns five of the horses in his barn under his A.O.M. Racing Stables banner, including recent winner Sing Scat, a 4-year-old filly owned in partnership with Diamond Hands Racing. Owners Lopez and Pedro Brito Brito help out around the barn, making Mendieta’s success a total team effort.

He’s also shown a knack for making astute claims, with Tayyara, Sing Scat and 4-year-old gelding Rule It all winning their first starts from Mendieta’s barn after their acquisition.

The Mendietas have even taken their first steps into breeding with 8-year-old My Sarasota Star, whom he claimed for $5,000 through late trainer Bobby Raymond two years ago. Mendieta (as owner) and Raymond combined to win two races with her before her retirement.

Now boarded at Pleasant Acres Farm outside Ocala, the Florida-bred daughter of Adios Charlie out of the Wildcat Heir mare Outwildcattin has produced two offspring by multiple-Grade II winner Bucchero, a yearling colt and a newborn filly, and it might not be long before one (or both) compete at the Oldsmar oval.

If Mendieta, whose first job in the United States was as a hotwalker of horses being prepared for sale in Ocala, had more time, he might pinch himself at his good fortune. One hot month does not make a successful career, but he’s already proven he can rebound from the inevitable setbacks the sport dishes out.

“I’m blessed to be married 12 years and have two beautiful girls, and for my owners and the guys who work for me,” Mendieta said. “I was so lucky to travel with Mr. Bennett, who gave me a chance and helped me with a lot of things. And I love to work with horses. That hasn’t changed since I was a kid.”

Around the oval. Jose Ferrer and Daniel Centeno each rode two winners today. Ferrer, who turned 60 on March 31, won the second race on first-time starter Mega Glorious, a 3-year-old colt owned by Gary Ellebracht, Virginia L. Hoover and Nicole M. Hoover and trained by Ellebracht. Mega Glorious was claimed from the race for $16,000 by new owner-trainer Xavier Rivera.

Ferrer added the sixth aboard Happy Ride, a 5-year-old Florida-bred mare owned by Wadie F. Khalaf and trained by Rory Barron. Happy Ride was claimed for $8,000 by trainer Leslielyn Hardesty for new owner Amarie Rosa.

Centeno won the fifth race on Drama’s Prayer, a 5-year-old Florida-bred gelding owned by Flying B Ranch Cattle Company and trained by Jorge Delgado. Centeno scored next in the seventh race on the turf with City Leader, a 3-year-old gelding owned by Lael Stables and trained by Arnaud Delacour.

Apprentice jockey Mariangelys Almedina scored her fifth career victory in the fourth race aboard Calendula, automatically lowering her apprentice weight allowance from 10 to 7 pounds. She also has seven seconds and five thirds from 44 career mounts.

Thoroughbred racing continues Saturday with a nine-race card beginning at 12:20 p.m. Tampa Bay Downs is open every day for simulcast wagering, no-limits action and tournament play in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.








Boot Barn Trainer of the Month Alejandro Olais Mendieta and his wife Maria, who works at Tampa Bay Downs in concessions, with 4-year-old filly Sing Scat

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