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A full field of 12 fillies and mares is expected for Saturday’s Grade III, $150,000 Endeavour Stakes, the first graded stakes of the 2013-14 Tampa Bay Downs season.
The 15th running of the Endeavour, which will be contested at a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the turf course, is scheduled as the eighth race on an 11-race card that begins at 12:25 p.m. Also on the stellar program are the $100,000 Lightning City Stakes, a five-furlong test for older fillies and mares on the turf, and the $60,000 Pelican Stakes for horses 4-years-old-and-upward going six furlongs on the main dirt track.
The Pelican will kick off the banner stakes slate as the seventh race, with an approximate post time of 3:24 p.m. The Lightning City will be the 10th race on the program.
The Endeavour drew 13 entries, but only 12 can start. Represented are a pair of Thoroughbred racing’s Hall of Fame trainers, Jonathan Sheppard and William Mott. Sheppard has entered Augustin Stable’s 5-year-old British-bred mare Dream Clover, who is 4-for-12 in her career, including a trio of stakes victories in France. Luis Garcia has been named to ride Dream Clover.
Mott’s entry is 5-year-old Floral Romance, owned by Pam and Martin Wygod. She is 3-for-8 lifetime, including her recent turf allowance victory at Belmont in October. Daniel Centeno has been named as the jockey.
When it comes to race favoritism, however, both may take a backseat to two other 5-year-olds, the Thomas Proctor-trained Left a Message and the Arnaud Delacour-conditioned Final Escrow. Left a Message is a stakes-winning mare bred by the Steinbrenner family’s Kinsman Farm who finished third in her previous start, the Grade III Long Island Handicap at Aqueduct. Final Escrow, also a stakes winner, has won three of her last four starts and appears to be rounding into top form.
Quincy Hamilton has been named to ride Left a Message, while Antonio Gallardo will be aboard Final Escrow. Top jockey Alan Garcia is coming up from south Florida to ride the 5-year-old mare Wholelottashakin, who has finished first or second in nine of her 18 starts and is trained by Thomas Bush.
The Lightning City has also drawn 13 fillies and mares, with the field limited to 12 (as with the Endeavour, preference is given to graded stakes winners and those with the highest earnings in 2013-14). Top candidates appear to be 5-year-old Madame Giry, who is trained by Cam Gambolati and will be ridden by Alan Garcia, and 4-year-old Joan Scott-trainee Cor Cor, who has won stakes on turf, dirt and synthetic surfaces. Her jockey is Scott Spieth.
The Pelican has the potential to be a dazzling sprint contest, with 7-year-old gelding Action Andy, from the barn of trainer Carlos Garcia, set to defend his 2013 victory. Angel Serpa has the riding assignment. The main threats in the eight-horse field could be the Forrest Kaelin-trained Good Lord, who holds the Tampa Bay Downs seven-furlong track record and will be ridden by Daniel Centeno, and Sneaking Uponyou, an 8-year-old gelding who won the 2010 Pelican and is trained by Mandy Ness. Gallardo is the scheduled rider.
Saturday’s impressive card will be preceded by a strong Friday program beginning at 12:25 p.m.
As a five-time track riding champion, past winner of the Tampa Bay Derby and all-time leader in Florida Cup victories with seven, Daniel Centeno has an immense fondness for Tampa Bay Downs.
Each of his championships resulted from a series of single steps, and the formula remains the same: working a full slate of horses nearly every morning, studying past performances, watching replays and staying in top shape. When the dust settles, chances are the 42-year-old Venezuelan – the recipient of the Hampton Inn & Suites Jockey of the Month Award – will again find himself near the top of the pack.
“I’m happy to be back and I’m going to try to win a lot more races,” said Centeno, who left Laurel in Maryland in mid-December when winter bared its fangs, after missing the first eight days of the meeting. “But I’m not thinking about the standings right now. It’s only January, and there are almost four months left. The main thing is to make the people I ride for, the owners and trainers, happy.”
No one did that better locally than Centeno during a four-year span from 2006-10. He set a track record during the 2006-07 season with 125 victories, following that the next season with a still-standing mark of 144 winners. The most telling statistic during his reign: his average of 1.48 winners per performance.
Centeno won his fifth Tampa Bay Downs title last season with 90 victories. Including his victory on Jan. 11 in the $50,000 Minaret Stakes aboard Risky Rachel, he began the week in fourth place with 17 winners, a long way from the top, but it is premature to count him out of anything – especially given his liking for his surroundings.
“I love Tampa. That’s why I bought my house here,” said Centeno, who resides here with his fiancée, Ashley George, and their 5-year-old daughter Jazmyn. Centeno’s 14-year-old son Daniel lives in southern California.
“I love this racetrack and I love the people. The grandstand is almost always full, and when you have this many good jockeys, it’s good for the sport.”
As with any jockey, staying healthy is a major factor in his ongoing success. In Sunday’s eighth race, Centeno’s mount – the Tom Proctor-trained 3-year-old filly Be Nice Or Leave – veered sharply to her right at the break, slamming the rider’s right foot into the side of the gate.
“It wasn’t the first time that’s happened, but I never did it like that,” said Centeno, who felt pain all the way around the track but managed to grind out a hard-earned victory in the 1-mile starter allowance race on the turf. “I was trying not to think about it because I wanted to win the race, but it was so painful. Fortunately, my foot wasn’t broken – just bruised – and the paramedic came over to the (jockeys’) room after the race to ice it.”
Centeno returned to the saddle for the 10th race, riding Ephram S to a runner-up finish, beaten a nose for the top spot. He was able to exercise horses Monday, even though his foot still hurt. “We have to do what we have to do. You have to go back to work,” he said.
Centeno rode the majority of the first 14 years of his career at La Rinconada in Caracas. In the United States, he has ridden more than 1,900 winners – including an average of 247 a year from 2008-10 – and has career mount earnings in excess of $34.3 million.
Jockey Antonio Gallardo rode three winners today. The Spaniard started his success in the second race on 7-year-old gelding King Rock for owner Midwest Thoroughbreds, Inc., and trainer Jamie Ness and came right back in the third on 3-year-old filly first-time starter Abou for owner Robert B. Berger and trainer Joan Scott.
Gallardo added the ninth on 4-year-old gelding Gianna’s Music Man, owned by Backstretch Stables, Big Bang Racing, Thor Nicholson, Chris Gile and Jay Leppanen and trained by Dale Bennett.
Angel Serpa rode two winners on the turf, annexing the fifth race on 6-year-old gelding Sammy Alexander for owners Span Investments, Inc., and David Fernandes, and the 10th on 4-year-old filly Rmilliondollarbaby for owner Law Legacy Stables, LLC and trainer Skip Einhorn.
Tampa Bay Downs is open every day for simulcast wagering, no-limits poker in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.

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