OLDSMAR, FL. – To borrow a line from Shakespeare, jockey Daniel Centeno has a lean and hungry look.
And although it is early in the meet, Centeno’s cravings have elevated him to the top spot in the Tampa Bay Downs standings.
Through 11 performances, the 41-year-old Tampa resident is serving notice of his intention to claim an unprecedented fifth Oldsmar title – even if, for now, he is downplaying talk of a return to the top spot he last claimed during the 2009-10 season.
Centeno is one of three jockeys to win the crown four times, along with still-active Ronnie Allen, Jr. and William Henry.
Centeno, who rode three winners Saturday and added another Sunday in the Cody’s Original Roadhouse Race of the Week, has 12 victories from 59 starts, along with 16 seconds and eight thirds. It shouldn’t hurt that Centeno is riding numerous horses for Jamie Ness, the six-time reigning Tampa Bay Downs training champ.
Centeno holds the single-season Tampa Bay Downs mark with 144 winners, set during the 2007-08 campaign.
“I’m not thinking about (winning another title) now,” Centeno said after urging 2-year-old filly Cotton Pickin to a nose victory from Sea of Laughter in the seventh race, an allowance/$75,000 optional claiming event at a mile on the turf. “I want to come out here, do my job and try to do the best I can with every horse. If I win the title, I win it, but it’s way too early for that.
“I just want to win as many races as I can and try to stay healthy. That’s the main thing.”
Centeno’s ride aboard Cotton Pickin for owner Christine Vogt and trainer Derek Ryan showed why he’ll be tough to surpass. After Cotton Pickin broke sideways from the No. 5 post in the eight-horse field, Centeno settled her into stride, but became concerned by the slow early fractions and lack of racing room down the backstretch.
When he finally found an opening, Cotton Pickin responded. Sea of Laughter, under Luis Garcia, was game down the stretch, and horses and jockeys treated the crowd to a rip-roaring, head-bobbing duel to the wire, with Cotton Pickin just up on the outside.
“They both took off and finished strong,” Centeno said.
Look for Angel Serpa to keep Centeno in his sights throughout the meet. Serpa, 25, made a strong impression during the 2011-12 campaign, riding 72 winners to place third in the standings.
He rode his ninth and 10th winners of the meet Sunday, piloting 2-5 favorite Pot of Gold to a half-length victory in the fourth race for owner Blue Top Holdings Stable and trainer Jorge Navarro and 4-5 favorite Moon Over Parador to the winner’s circle in the ninth for Midwest Thoroughbreds, Inc. and Ness.
Danny Coa and Fernando De La Cruz enter the Christmas holiday tied for third with eight victories apiece. Coa won Sunday’s second race, a mile-and-a-sixteenth turf event, on 2-year-old colt Lightning Stone for owner Adirondack Rose Thoroughbreds and trainer William Allyn.
Dean Butler is fifth with seven victories, winning twice Sunday. Butler scored in the third race Sunday on 4-year-old colt Adaro for owner Bruce McCrea and trainer Robert O’Connor, II and came back in the 10th on 13-1 shot Righteous Place, a 2-year-old colt, for owner Bailey Bolen and trainer Bernell Rhone.
Scott Spieth has six winners and Garcia, Carol Cedeno and apprentice Ricardo Mejias all have five victories.
Chad Stewart is currently the leading trainer with seven victories from only 17 starters, but a lack of numbers in his barn could imperil his hold on the lead. Ness and Gerald Bennett are next with six wins, with four trainers at five: Jane Cibelli, Jason DaCosta, Bernell Rhone and Antonio Sano.
Horsemen, fans and computer-savvy bettors are embracing Tampa Bay Downs’ new mobile-wagering platform, Mbet.tampabaydowns.com. The on-track site works with any smart phone or iPad, as well as most laptops and tablet computers.
To begin, visit any pari-mutuel teller, ask for a “Daily Account” and specify an opening amount. Then, set your mobile device to the track’s free Wi-Fi (which appears as tbdinternet) and go to mbet.tampabaydowns.com to begin placing your wagers.
The mobile-wagering platform can only be used on the grounds of the track. Mbet.tampabaydowns.com allows you to wager on any of the live races as well as simulcast races. Return to any of the teller windows to cash out your winnings.
More information is available at the Customer Service kiosk on the first floor of the grandstand.
Live racing resumes Wednesday, with a first-race post time of 12:30 p.m. There is no live racing or simulcast wagering Monday and Tuesday, Christmas Day. However, The Silks Poker Room will be open Monday until just past midnight. The Golf Practice Facility is also open Monday until 4:30 p.m.