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Jorge Navarro embraces the label “claiming trainer” because it puts the onus on him to make wise decisions on behalf of his owners about acquiring bloodstock, and because he is good at what he does.
Claiming races are the foundation of virtually every race meeting, and there is little room for trainers to become sentimentally attached to their horses. But as long as they are in his barn, Navarro is meticulous about their care and preparation.
Generally, happy horses perform well, and Navarro’s results at Tampa Bay Downs since the start of the 2010-11 meet indicate his horses enjoy their work. Over the past two-and-a-half seasons, he has saddled 73 winners from 241 starters (30.3 percent), second locally to Jamie Ness during that period.
A recent steak of 11 victories from 21 starters, including a victory in Wednesday’s sixth race with 4-year-old gelding He’s R’ Dehere Now for owner Kathryn Earley, enabled Navarro to climb to second in the 2012-13 standings with 20 victories and secure the Zerillo’s Trainer of the Month Award.
The 38-year-old Navarro maintains there are no shortcuts to success. He believes in taking as much time as a horse needs to get ready for a race, as in the case of 6-year-old gelding Havanadaydream, who was vanned off after a race at Calder on July 1, 2011, the day Navarro claimed him for $25,000 for owner Julian De Mora.
Havanadaydream didn’t start until six months later at Tampa Bay Downs, and his performance was so desultory Navarro knew he wasn’t happy. With De Mora’s support, Navarro allowed him to recover from a host of physical issues, finally entering him for an $8,000 claiming tag Jan. 24 of this year. Havanadaydream won that day by more than seven lengths going five-and-a-half furlongs and returned three weeks later to win by a length-and-a-quarter, again at the $8,000 level and in faster time for the distance.
Havanadaydream may be valued at $17,000 less than when Navarro claimed him, but he still is competing and winning and that counts as a success story.
“I know a lot of people want to know what we are doing to win so often,” Navarro said. “First, we are putting the horses where they belong, and we’re doing the right thing for the horse. If you come by my barn at 1 p.m., my grooms are going to be working on horses. They want to win races, and they know what it takes,” Navarro said.
“This is an excellent place to train a racehorse,” Navarro said. “A lot of our horses love Tampa, and after this meet ends they do real well. And I love the claiming game. It’s fun and challenging to take a horse from somebody, find the problems and win right back.”
Other horses developed into consistent winners by Navarro include 5-year-old mare Daddy’s Honor, who became a multiple stakes-placed runner for De Mora after Navarro claimed her for $25,000 from her first start; 7-year-old mare First Acquital, a winner here on dirt and turf for Blue Top Holdings Stable; and 4-year-old filly Exclusive Sarah, who has won three in a row at the current meet for owner Amaty Racing Stables after dropping her first 14 starts.
Another Navarro runner approaching top form is 4-year-old gelding Angelofdistinction, owned by Sargas Management LLC. The 2011 winner of the Inaugural Stakes is 2-for-2 at the current meet under Navarro’s care, and will be taking a major step up in class in Saturday’s $75,000 Super Stakes.
“When a horse is doing well, you have to take a chance,” Navarro said. “That is the only way you can find out if he is good enough.”
Navarro learned his craft from the ground up, starting as a hot-walker and groom and working as an assistant to Sam David, Jr. at Fair Grounds for three years. He also worked as a veterinary assistant and broke horses before going out on his own. Despite his experience, he is not averse to listening to his experienced crew of 11, such as right-hand man Rigoberto Munoz.
“He knows the routine and the way I operate and makes sure everything is done the right way,” Navarro said. “I owe my success to my entire team.”
On the home front, Navarro moved from Ocala to Tampa before the 2012-13 season to make things easier on his family. He and wife Jennifer Harries, who helps oversee the day-to-day operation, have five children: daughters Ashley (18), Taylor (13) and Miah (3), and sons Christian (16) and Jorge (5).
“They want to become doctors and lawyers,” Navarro said, laughing, “and I’m very happy with that. Training is my passion, but my kids aren’t the same as me.” Hopefully, though, they will approach any endeavor with the dedication and thoroughness of their father.
Thursday’s nine-race card begins at about 12:30 p.m. 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.
Daniel Centeno rode two winners Wednesday and now trails Angel Serpa in the track jockey standings, 49-48. Centeno won the third race on 4-year-old filly Dark Nebula for owner Green Lantern Stables LLC and trainer George Arnold, II and the eighth race on 4-year-old filly Opera Hall for owner M and G Stables LLC and trainer Gary Jackson.
Steve Ballou and Harriet Waldron’s 4-year-old filly Kune Kune won the featured ninth race, an allowance/$62,500 optional claiming event at a mile on the turf, by three-quarters of a length from Magical Cat. Kune Kune is trained by Joan Scott and was ridden by Scott Spieth.
“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 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.

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