When you’re hot, you’re hot. And jockey Angel Serpa, in the vernacular of his homeland, Puerto Rico, is en fuego.
The 25-year-old rising star rode three winners for the third time in six racing days, giving him 15 winners on the past eight cards. And although his winners Friday were short-priced horses, Serpa continues to display the skill and verve that are winning him new followers not only at Tampa Bay Downs but across the simulcast spectrum.
Serpa improved his meet-long haul to 36 victories, four ahead of four-time track champion Daniel Centeno. And even though it is only January, it is worth noting Serpa has won 23 races in 2013, fourth-most in North America.
“I’m feeling so good, because I know I’m doing very well,” said Serpa, whose bid for a 4-for-4 day was halted when Mambo Maya finished seventh in the ninth race. “I say thanks to the trainers, like Jamie Ness and Jane Cibelli, for putting me on a lot of winners.
“I just start by working hard in the mornings, and the results in the afternoon are there. I’m making good decisions in my races, and every time I win I feel more comfortable and get more confidence.
“I’ll try to keep going like this because I want to stay in the top (list of) riders,” Serpa added. “My agent (Al Dellape), helps me a lot, too, telling me ‘Serpa, do this and do that, keep patient,’ and that’s what I’m going to do.”
Serpa’s latest big day began with a heady effort on 2011 Inaugural Stakes winner Angelofdistinction in the second race. Trailing the field into the turn of the six-furlong allowance/$32,000 optional claiming race, Serpa found an opening along the rail and ran down a determined Just Jebicah by a half-length in 1:10.99.
Owned by Sargas Management LLC and trained by Jorge Navarro, Angelofdistinction paid $5.60 as the second choice.
In the fourth race, an $8,000 claiming affair, Serpa teamed with even-money favorite Take Me to Zuber for a gate-to-wire, four-and-a-half-length victory from Moms Glide. Owned by Ed Short and Margo Flynn and trained by Cibelli, Take Me to Zuber was claimed out of the race by trainer Kirk Ziadie for owner Averill Racing LLC.
Two races later, aboard Rakehellish for owners Dennis Griffith, Jan A. Meehan and John T. Petika and trainer Greg Griffith, Serpa kept the 6-year-old mare well-placed throughout before angling her out on the turn for home and speeding past the leaders.
Rakehellish won the mile-and-a-sixteenth $25,000 turf claiming test by a length from Thrice Nice. The winner paid $7.20 as second betting choice.
Trainer Jorge Navarro won two races Friday to move into a tie for second place in the track standings with Cibelli with 12 victories apiece, nine behind leader Jamie Ness.
In addition to saddling Angelofdistinction, Navarro sent out 4-year-old filly Exclusive Sarah to win the third race for owner Amaty Racing Stables. Jose Angel Garcia rode Exclusive Sarah, who prevailed by a neck from Littlemissattitude.
Saturday’s 11-race card is highlighted by the $75,000 Lightning City Stakes for older fillies and mares at five furlongs on the turf. The Lightning City is the 10th race on the card.
The 5-2 morning-line favorite is 4-year-old filly Madame Giry, trained by Cam Gambolati and to be ridden by Eddie Castro.
Saturday’s festivities begin at 10 a.m. with track announcer Richard Grunder’s Morning Glory Club. Grunder’s guest speaker is trainer Chad Stewart, who is tied for fourth in the track standings with 11 victories from only 35 starters.
Attendees are encouraged to arrive early to watch morning workouts and enjoy free coffee and donuts. Morning Glory Club participants also receive free grandstand passes.
The Tampa Bay Downs Division of the Race Track Chaplaincy of America has established a 501(c)(3) nonprofit fund to assist exercise rider Erasmo Tranquilino, who was critically injured Jan. 18 in a fall from a golf cart in the barn area of the track.
Tranquilino suffered a fractured skull and a brain injury in the accident and is at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Tampa in a medically-induced coma. The fund will help defray his medical costs and aid family members, who are traveling from Mexico to be with him.
The 23-year-old Tranquilino has worked for trainer Leigh Delacour for the past three years. He was the regular exercise rider on stakes-winner Lentenor, a full brother to 2006 Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro. Lentenor has entered stud at Calumet Farm in Kentucky.
“Erasmo is a kid who goes unnoticed because he is quiet and kind and rides very well,” Delacour said. “He was playing with our infant son at the races an hour before the incident, and this happened. Accidents can happen to anyone, any time.”
Individuals wishing to assist Tranquilino and his family can make a monetary donation via PayPal at the RTCA-Tampa Bay Downs Division’s website, www.rtcatbd.org
. Please specify that your donation is for the Erasmo Tranquilino Fund.
Donations can also be mailed to the track chaplaincy at RTCA-Tampa Bay Downs Division, P.O. Box 2211, Oldsmar, FL 34677. Checks should be made out to the RTCA.
Tampa Bay Downs conducts Thoroughbred racing five days a week, Wednesday through Sunday, and 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.