Jorge Navarro capped a stellar February performance at Tampa Bay Downs with his selection Wednesday as Hurricane Grill & Wings Trainer of the Month.
The 37-year-old native of Panama won nine races during the month. Primarily a trainer of claiming horses, Navarro is fourth in the 2011-12 Tampa Bay Downs standings with 17 victories from 56 starters. His main clients include Julian De Mora, the Blue Top Holding Stables of Juan Matos and Charles Justi.
Two signs that Navarro's 24-horse stable is one to be reckoned with the remainder of the meeting have emerged from his recent hot streak. First, his victories were achieved with eight different horses, De Mora's 6-year-old mare Bobbiesqueen being the only two-time winner during the month.
Second, the highest win payoff for any of the nine came Feb. 5, when Bobbiesqueen returned $9.20. That's a sign not only of respect from bettors, but of Navarro's proficiency at placing horses where they can be competitive.
"He's a really sharp trainer with a bright future," said jockey Danny Coa. "When he puts me on a horse and tells me they're going to win, it seems like they do win about 80 percent of the time. When a trainer is confident, it gives me a lot of confidence. His horses are taken care of well and he puts them where they belong."
Navarro's activity in February was not limited to making trips to the winner's circle. Being a claiming trainer means constantly seeking ways to upgrade his stock for clients, knowing he is going to lose some horses himself during the course of the meeting. Last weekend alone, he claimed a pair of winners: No Inflation from the barn of Thomas Proctor for owner Julian De Mora and Bear Always from Jamie Ness for owner Blue Top Holding Stables.
Claiming horses is a fun part of the sport for the 37-year-old Navarro. "It's fun, especially with the right owner who wants to do it the right way," he said. "If you claim a good one, manage him good, but don't fall in love with them. If they've got to go, they've got to go. You've got to remember you got that horse via a claim, so you don't have to be hurt if someone takes him from you."
Because of the time demands of watching races and replays to determine which horses he wants to acquire for his owners, Navarro relies on his grooms, exercise riders and hot walkers to ensure the stable operation runs smoothly. "Things like this award make everyone keep going," said Navarro, who is married with three daughters and two sons. "I do the easy part, the figuring and the game-planning. They are the ones who check the legs and tell me what they see. There is no medicine that is going to make horses run better. We believe in working with a horse. It's not just feeding them hay. You come by our barn at 11 or 12 o'clock, my guys are still working."
Navarro, whose brother Marcial Navarro is a trainer, is the stepson of retired trainer Julian Canet, who trained 1996 Florida Oaks winner Mindy Gayle. Navarro worked as a veterinarian's assistant for three years, broke young horses in Ocala for several years and was an assistant at Fair Grounds for trainer Sam David Jr. before taking out his own license.
"There is something about the track at Tampa Bay Downs my horses love," Navarro said. "The superintendent here (Tom McLaughlin) is one of the best I've seen. I've had horses with problems that seemed to go away here."
A track record was established for the second time in three racing days when 4-year-old Kentucky-bred gelding Only Win sped to a two-and-a-half length victory from Jackfrost Ofcourse in the second race, a $25,000 claiming event. Only Win's time of 1:03.45 bettered the 12-year-old mark of 1:03.55 held by Schmoopy.
Owned by G. Ray Trisler and trained by Michael Passero, Only Win was ridden by Fernando De La Cruz, his pilot for his two earlier career victories as a 3-year-old at Hoosier Park. Only win was sired by 2000 Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus and is out of the Valiant Nature mare Apert.
Trisler said the addition of blinkers and a sharp five-furlong workout from the gate last week probably made a difference in Only Win's record-setting performance. So did the fact he was back on the main track after finishing out of the money in his two previous races on the turf.
"We thought he could run on grass, but he showed he couldn't," Trisler said. "He has a lot of talent. He has been a hard horse to work with sometimes, but if you can get him to focus, you can see his ability. He is like a kid looking for trouble he can get into -- today, he didn't get into trouble. Fernando rode him perfectly. He didn't get into a speed duel, and when it came time to do the running, he did the running."
Trisler said it is unlikely Only Win will run for a claiming price again in the near future. He is now 3-for-13 in his career.
On Saturday, Drake Smith's 4-year-old filly White Merlot set a 6 1/2-furlong track record, winning in 1:16.04.
Trainer Olga Nowak recorded her first victory of the 2011-12 meeting when Kaledoskop toyed with the field in the fourth race, a mile-and-a-sixteenth maiden claiming race, winning by 7 1/4 lengths under De La Cruz. The 4-year-old colt, a son of Johannesburg-Special Jig, by Theatrical, is owned by Glockenburg LLC.
Kaledoskop, who was stakes-placed in Russia, was bred in Kentucky by W.S. Farish.
Live racing at Tampa Bay Downs resumes Thursday with a first-race post time of 12:25 p.m. There is a Super High 5 carryover of $2,995.63. Tampa Bay Downs 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.