On his first visit to Florida in the fall of 2010, jockey Ryan Curatolo spent most of his nights watching television in the hotel room he shared with his father.
Curatolo, who had started riding races at Calder in Miami, knew his English had to improve if he wanted business to grow. Before long, Curatolo was conversing with several TV characters.
“Once I started to pick it up, it got easy,” said Curatolo, who was named on Wednesday as the Hilton Garden Inn/Hampton Inn & Suites Jockey of the Month.
In his first season at Tampa Bay Downs, the 20-year-old native of Marseille, France is embracing a consistent, disciplined approach to his profession. “You have to stay disciplined because it is Wednesday through Sunday. You have to be asleep early at night and pay attention to what you’re doing,” said Curatolo.
“This is a tough meet, there are a lot of riders here and everybody is hungry to find good horses to ride. It is very competitive, so you have to do the best you can to look good, keep strong and try to minimize your mistakes in the races.”
His level-headed outlook is bearing fruit for Curatolo, an Eclipse Award finalist in the Outstanding Apprentice Jockey category in 2011 when he won 115 races from 897 starts, mostly on the high-profile New York circuit.
That year, late New York horseman Carl Lizza signed Curatolo to a contract, and the teenager scored his first stakes victory on Street Game in the Grade III Hill Prince at Belmont. In November, Curatolo rode Pure Gossip for Lizza’s Flying Zee Stable in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf at Churchill Downs.
With eight victories and 19 in-the-money finishes locally in February, Curatolo is 10th in the Tampa Bay Downs meet standings with 17 trips to the winner’s circle. His 16.2 winning percentage through Sunday was sixth-best.
Curatolo missed much of the 2012 season when the process of renewing his immigration papers took more time than expected. This winter, with the help of agent Sonny Hughes and consistent support from his father, Robert Curatolo, the youngster is reminding local horsemen what the fuss was about two years ago in the Big Apple.
“The biggest area of progress I’ve seen with Ryan is his response to the stereotype that he is mainly a grass rider,” Hughes said. “The truth is, he has ridden the dirt very well (six of his eight recent wins were on dirt, including a victory on the William Mott-trained 3-year-old Night Warden in a race taken off the turf).
“He’s been able to figure out that he has to ride more patiently on the grass and be more aggressive on the dirt, and he’s made those adjustments,” Hughes added.
With the chance to ride for such established trainers as Hall of Famer Mott, Christophe Clement, Leigh Delacour and Dennis Ward, expect to hear more from Ryan Curatolo during this meet and at Monmouth and Delaware in the summer.
“I’ve got people from outside like (Mott and Clement) giving me a chance, and I’m trying to make the best of it,” Curatolo said. “I’m also thankful to my dad for being behind me all the time.”
Jockey Ademar Santos rode back-to-back winners Wednesday, moving him into a tie for eighth place with Jose Angel Garcia in the Tampa Bay Downs meet standings with 18 victories.
Santos won the fifth race, a mile-and-40-yard maiden claiming event, with 3-year-old gray gelding Rynwelski for owner-trainer Jennifer A. Quinones. Santos returned to the winner’s circle after the sixth race, a seven-furlong claiming contest, on owner-trainer Lloyd W. Lockhart’s 5-year-old gelding Holiday Image.
After weighing the pluses and minuses of a return to race-riding following an eight-year hiatus forced by injuries, Gary Boulanger found his competitive urges too strong to resist.
Boulanger – who had limited success as a trainer since entering that profession in 2009 – decided to relinquish his trainer’s license after riding 3-year-old filly Spring a Latch to an unplaced finish in an allowance/optional claiming turf race Feb. 17. As long as he continued to train, Boulanger was only allowed to ride his own horses.
In Wednesday’s ninth race, the 45-year-old Boulanger rode Barbershop, a 6-year-old gelding owned by his girlfriend, Darcy Scudero, to a seventh-place finish. Formerly trained by Boulanger, the Kentucky-bred chestnut is now in the hands of Anthony Pecoraro.
Boulanger is named to ride 5-year-old mare Strike It Green for trainer Mark Casse in the ninth race Thursday.
“I’m going to build myself back up, see what kind of business I can generate and try to get back into the flow of riding,” Boulanger said Sunday after making his decision. “I felt really good about riding (Spring a Latch), even though I wasn’t happy with the result. It’s going to be a matter of getting with the right people and riding the right horses.”
Boulanger’s career was derailed in 2005 at Gulfstream when his mount lost his footing and fell, causing Boulanger to incur a ruptured spleen, broken ribs, a detached tendon in his elbow and serious head injuries.
Thursday’s nine-race card begins at 12:30 p.m. There is a Pick-5 carryover of $22,538.35.
“Hearts Reaching Out.” There is still time to enter the “Hearts Reaching Out” Golf Tournament four-person scramble as an individual or a team. The event, conducted by the Race Track Chaplaincy of America, Tampa Bay Downs Division, is Monday, March 4 at 11 a.m. at Countryside Country Club in Clearwater.
The event will be held prior to the RTCA-Tampa Bay Downs Division’s Charity Auction and Dinner at 5:30 p.m. under the tent in the track’s Picnic Area. The tournament awards banquet will be held at 7 p.m. in conjunction with the auction.
Cost is $100 for the tournament, dinner and auction, and $20 for the dinner and auction. Tickets are available at the Chaplain’s Office. For details or to reserve a spot, call (813) 494-1870 or (813) 298-1576.
Items to be auctioned include a pair of Belmont Stakes tickets, racing and sports memorabilia, signed items, photographs and paintings.
Proceeds benefit the RTCA, a certified 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization which provides spiritual, emotional, physical, social and educational services to racetrack workers. The RTCA, Tampa Bay Downs Division, also receives financial support from Tampa Bay Downs, the Horsemen’s Benevolence and Protective Association and individual donors. Information is available at the web site www.rtcatbd.org
Car Giveaway. Poker players, circle Friday, March 8 on your calendars. That is when The Silks Poker Room at Tampa Bay Downs will be giving away a 2013 Toyota Camry SE to one lucky player, as well as $599 cash prizes to nine other players.
To win a drawing ticket for March 8, poker players must get an aces-full or higher hand in a game between now and March 7 using at least one card in their hand. To be eligible to win the car or a cash prize, ticket-holders must be playing or on the waiting list to play on March 8. Ten tickets will be drawn, nine for $599 and one for the car.