OLDSMAR, FL. – Jockey Angel Serpa battled butterflies on his flight from Maryland to southern California for the Breeders’ Cup. His condition barely improved before his ride on Speak Logistics in the $2-million Juvenile.
“I was so nervous on the airplane. … and in the paddock, with so many people and all the big riders. I’ve never seen something as beautiful as that,” said Serpa, a 25-year-old native of Bayamon, Puerto Rico.
Serpa overcame his nerves long enough to hustle Speak Logistics into the top three for the first half of the race. The Edward Plesa, Jr.-trained colt finished seventh, but Serpa returned home with a positive memory of his first Breeders’ Cup experience.
His agent, Al Dellape, believes it is only a matter of time before he returns to the sport’s leading stage. Serpa rode three winners Saturday and leads all Tampa Bay Downs jockeys with eight, earning Hilton Garden Inn/Hampton Inn & Suites Jockey of the Month honors.
“He has tremendous potential,” said Dellape, also the agent for Serpa’s wife, Carol Cedeno, who rode two winners Wednesday. “He is finishing up much stronger, and he is improving by leaps and bounds on the grass.
“He is also learning what I told him about not giving a horse too much to do,” Dellape said. “You have to keep them in the race and let them run their race.”
Serpa is sticking with the plan he and Dellape mapped out last spring. Few observers would have been surprised to see him move his tack to south Florida for the winter, but Serpa knows patience has its virtues.
“Al told me Rosemary (Homeister, Jr.) and Leandro (Goncalves) were not coming back to Tampa, so I thought I had to come here again and try to have a great meet,” said Serpa, who finished third in last season’s standings with 72 victories.
“Everybody at Tampa knows me this year. I want to try to ride for as many people as I can and keep working hard and try to stay in front (in the standings). I’ll get more experience on the grass, then next year I’ll be ready to move to Gulfstream.”
“If you’re a good grass rider, you can ride almost any kind of horse,” Dellape said, aware that Serpa should ride as many races locally as anyone. “I think a second year of experience here will benefit Angel immensely, and he should be able to go on to just about any track in the country.”
Dellape also is high on Cedeno’s potential. She rode her fourth and fifth winners of the meet Wednesday, starting with the seventh race on the turf on the 5-year-old mare Butterdish for owner Ridenjac Racing and trainer Dennis Ward. Serpa finished third on Lets Go Donna.
Cedeno came back in the 10th and final race on 4-year-old gelding Speed Lightning for owners Evelyn and Manuel Troche, who trains the horse.
While Serpa rode throughout the summer at Monmouth, riding for such top trainers as Jane Cibelli and Plesa, Cedeno kept her tack in Indiana, finishing sixth in the standings at Indiana Downs and fifth at Hoosier Park.
“Carol has a lot of patience and is very still on a horse,” Dellape said. “And like Angel, she has a very good left-handed (whip).”
Serpa and Cedeno will celebrate their second anniversary Dec. 24. They met five years ago when attending the Escuela Vocacional Hipica horse racing high school in Canovanas, Puerto Rico. They have two children: Angelica, 3, and Dylan, 1.
“Everybody was talking about her in Puerto Rico,” said Serpa, who graduated in 2009, two years after Cedeno. “They said she was a strong rider and looked good turning for home.”
Serpa’s pre-race nerves were not a factor in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, and he expects to ride Speak Logistics back soon. He won the $300,000 Florida Stallion In Reality Stakes on the 2-year-old Oct. 13 at Calder, also winning the $300,000 My Dear Girl Stakes on Verso a Verso the same day.
Serpa’s big-race bona fides were established Feb. 25 at Tampa Bay Downs, when his hedge-skimming ride resulted in a nose victory on Roman Tiger in the Grade III, $150,000 Tampa Bay Stakes.
Fernando De La Cruz also rode two winners Wednesday, giving him six for the meet. De La Cruz scored in the fifth on 4-year-old maiden filly Love Me Or Else for owner Cindy Patrick and trainer R. Gary Patrick, and again in the sixth on 2-year-old maiden filly Ghost Flower for owner Wayne DaCosta and trainer Jason DaCosta.
Live racing resumes Friday with a first-race post time of 12:38 p.m. Tampa Bay Downs will also conduct live racing Saturday and Sunday, but there will be no racing or simulcast wagering Dec. 24 and Dec. 25.
The Silks Poker Room will be open Dec. 24 until just past midnight and closed Dec. 25. The Golf Practice Facility is open Dec. 24 until 4:30 p.m. and closed Dec. 25.