Danny Coa, who has climbed into fifth place in the Tampa Bay Downs jockey standings with 45 victories, has been selected as the Hilton Garden Inn/Hampton Inn & Suites Jockey of the Month.
Since the birth of his second son, Kenny Joel, on Feb. 11, Coa has emerged as one of the most consistent riders in the local colony. “It is amazing how focused you can get when you think about somebody you love,” Coa says.
Coa has won with 15.8 percent of his starters at the current meet, fifth-best among all jockeys with at least 100 mounts.
Coa’s agent Herson Sanchez, a former Tampa Bay Downs standout who rode 2,289 winners in a 21-year career, believes Coa has long had the potential to excel. “Hard work, dedication and talent. Those are the three things that have gotten Danny here,” Sanchez said. “We’re excited about going up to Delaware Park after this meet and keeping the momentum going. We like challenges.”
A 30-year-old native of Caracas, Venezuela, Coa and his wife Liduvina also have a 3-year-old son, Kendry, who already wants to follow in his father’s footsteps. That shouldn’t come as a surprise, since Coa’s uncle Eibar Coa – who won more than 4,000 races before a spill forced his retirement – taught Danny the basics when he was growing up (Eibar Coa’s 20-year-old son, Keiber Coa, is also a jockey, riding at Belmont in New York).
“I watched my uncle race every chance I got,” Danny said recently. “When I was 10 or 11, he used to dress me in boots and a helmet and take pictures and let me walk around the house so everybody could see me as a jockey.”
Earlier this season, Coa won the $60,000 Pelican Stakes aboard the then-5-year-old Action Andy in stakes-record time of 1:09.14 for six furlongs. That was his only stakes victory here this season, but he has been warming up with the weather. In the previous three weeks, he rode 14 winners from 58 starters, getting the job done for such leading trainers as Jonathan Sheppard, Tom Proctor, Kathleen O’Connell, Carlos Garcia, Jane Cibelli and Jorge Navarro.
On April 12, Coa rode four winners despite a spill in that day’s fifth race that forced him to sit out the sixth. He won three of the last four races on the April 20 card.
Coa has a while to discover if either of his sons will become a jockey (he also has an older daughter, Kelsey, who lives in Kentucky), but he’s set on providing the right kind of example for them. “I’ve been working pretty hard, and I feel real confident,” he said. “I’m glad I have the opportunity to work for Herson. Hopefully by next season here, I’ll be in position for a stronger meet.”
Trainer Baltazar Galvan saddled his first career winner Wednesday as his 6-year-old gelding Five Star Prince drew off in the stretch to win the seventh race, a five-and-a-half furlong claiming event, as the 11-10 favorite under jockey Jose E. Lopez.
Galvan had his milestone delayed when Five Star Prince finished first in the seventh race on April 13, only to be disqualified and placed second for interference on the backstretch. Wednesday’s victory came in the eighth start for Five Star Prince at the meet.
The leaders in each of the track’s competitive categories – owner, trainer and jockey – combined to sweep the early daily double Wednesday. Owner Midwest Thoroughbreds, Inc., trainer Jamie Ness and jockey Daniel Centeno have already sewn up titles for the 2012-13 season.
For the Midwest Thoroughbreds operation of Rich and Karen Papiese, which has finished as the runner-up for an Eclipse Award in the Outstanding Owner category the past two years, this will be a fourth consecutive Tampa Bay Downs title. Midwest set a track record for owners last season with 79 victories and has 46 this season.
Midwest set a national record in 2012 by sending out 542 winners and also led all owners with $10,145,328 in purse earnings.
Ness, who trains exclusively for Midwest, has won with 35.1 percent of his starters at the current meet, second to Jorge Navarro’s 35.9-percent strike rate. Ness has 46 winners here; this will be his seventh consecutive title, a Tampa Bay Downs record (he shared the crown in 2009-10 with Kathleen O’Connell and the following year with Gerald Bennett).
The late Don Rice won eight Tampa Bay Downs training titles, including three in a row from 1994-95 through 1996-97 and four in a row from 1999-2000 through 2002-03. One would suspect that is the next target for Ness, a Tampa Bay resident.
Centeno, who dominated the Tampa Bay Downs jockey colony four consecutive seasons from 2006-07 through 2009-10, has clinched a record fifth riding title. He has ridden 83 winners, and with $1,246,119 in earnings entering Wednesday, he will be the only local jockey to surpass the $1-million mark.
The trio of Midwest, Ness and Centeno combined to win Wednesday’s first race with 5-year-old gelding Sorry No Refunds and the second with 4-year-old gelding Favorite Patriot.
Also winning twice on the card was jockey Augusto A. Marin. In the fourth race, a five-furlong maiden special weight contest on the turf, he guided 3-year-old filly Bambileigh to a come-from-behind victory in her first start for owner Big Lick Farm and trainer Reid Nagle. Bambileigh, who paid $77.40 to win, is a daughter of 2005 Tampa Bay Derby winner Sun King.
Marin also won the fifth race, a six-and-a-half furlong maiden claiming affair on the main track, on 5-year-old gelding Splashing Prince for breeder-owner Irish Acres Farm and trainer P. Noel Hickey.
The 3-year-old gelding Purple Egg, who won the $75,000 Inaugural Stakes on Opening Day at Tampa Bay Downs as a 2-year-old before an unplaced effort in the Grade II, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby, is entered in Friday’s Opening Day feature at Belmont Park, the $85,000 Trippi Stakes at seven furlongs.
Purple Egg, who is 3-for-4 lifetime, is the 5-2 second choice on the morning line in a six-horse field. Owned by Goodwood Racing LLC and trained by Jane Cibelli, he will be ridden by Jose Lezcano.
Race goers who can’t make it to the Bluegrass State for the 139th Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands should plan to attend Tampa Bay Downs the weekend of May 4-5.
Undefeated 3-year-old colt Verrazano, the Grade II, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby winner on March 9 from the barn of trainer Todd Pletcher, and more recently winner of the Grade I Wood Memorial at Aqueduct, could be the third winner of the Run for the Roses to emerge from the Oldsmar showcase since 2007.
Such a result would set off a celebration unrivaled in the history of the track founded in 1926 as Tampa Downs – fittingly, with famed Churchill Downs President and Kentucky Derby promoter Matt Winn in charge of the inaugural 39-day meet.
But Tampa Bay Downs fans will also have the option of cheering for Tampa Bay Derby runner-up Java’s War, the Kenneth McPeek-trained 3-year-old whose stirring last-to-first comeback in the Grade I, $750,000 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland under jockey Julien Leparoux was the talk of the Twitter universe. Or they can cast their lot with third-place Tampa Bay Derby finisher Falling Sky, trained by John Terranova II, who won the Grade III, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs on Feb. 2.
Numerous festivities and events are being planned for the big weekend, which will bring the 87th season of Thoroughbred racing at Tampa Bay Downs to a close. Fans are encouraged to join the fun by participating in the traditions that help to make the Derby such a beloved spectacle, such as sipping on a refreshing mint julep or entering the hat contest under the tent in the Backyard Picnic Area.
Sunday, May 5 is Fan Appreciation Day, with free admission and food and beverages at discounted prices. And of course, Tampa Bay Downs will present two quality-laden cards of exciting Thoroughbred action on its final weekend.
The Gift Shop on the first floor of the grandstand has begun selling Kentucky Derby merchandise such as T-shirts, caps, shot glasses and souvenir glasses, which are inscribed with the name of each Derby winner from Aristides in 1875 through I’ll Have Another in 2012.
From now through May 4, players in The Silks Poker Room have the opportunity to qualify for a drawing to win a Toyota 4Runner from Wesley Chapel Toyota Honda. In any of the cash games, a hand of aces-full or better with one card earns one drawing ticket; four-of-a-kind or better with both cards earns two tickets; a straight flush earns three tickets; and a royal flush earns five tickets.
Sundays and Thursdays are double-ticket days. The drawing for the 4Runner will be held May 5; the winner must be present to attend. In addition, nine tickets will be drawn that day for $599 cash prizes. The Silks Poker Room is open daily from 10 a.m.-4 a.m.
Thoroughbred racing at Tampa Bay Downs resumes on Friday with a nine-race card beginning at 12:35 p.m. The track is open every day for simulcast wagering, no-limits poker action in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.