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December 19, 2014


by Mike Henry
Daniel Centeno is the Hampton Inn & Suites Jockey of the Month; Derek Ryan-trained Joe Tess narrowly misses 7-furlong track mark.

As a 24-year veteran of race-riding, including 14 years at La Rinconada in his native Venezuela, Jockeys’ Guild representative Daniel Centeno is happy to accept his role as a mentor to many of the young jockeys at Tampa Bay Downs.

But his status as an elder statesman doesn’t keep him from dealing out lessons on the racetrack.

Centeno rode four winners on Wednesday’s nine-race card, cementing his selection as the Hampton Inn & Suites Jockey of the Month. The following day, he celebrated his 43rd birthday with his fiancée Ashley George and their 6-year-old daughter Jazmyn (Centeno’s 15-year-old son, Daniel, lives in southern California).

The winner of five jockey titles at Tampa Bay Downs – including four in a row from the 2006-2007 through 2009-2010 seasons – shows no signs of slowing. “You’re right, I am getting older,” he said with a wide smile, “but I’m fit, I’m healthy and I work every day. Plus, I like playing a lot of sports, like beach volleyball and softball.

“In my mind I’m still young, and I want to see how far I can go.”

Centeno earned his 2,000th victory in North America in July at Parx Racing on 4-year-old gelding Forest Rim for Hall of Fame trainer Jonathan Sheppard.

Centeno, who won a meeting-high five stakes last season, is a devoted student of his craft whom horsemen can rely on for sound insight. “He likes to work horses in the morning, and he can come back and tell you something about the horse that you can use,” said Gerald Bennett, a past Tampa Bay Downs leading trainer.

Bennett thinks Centeno is riding as well as he did during his four-year reign, when he set an Oldsmar record with 144 victories during the 2007-2008 meeting and averaged a staggering 1.48 victories per race day.

“He has a good body, he’s strong and he’s in the right frame of mind. He’s a good pace rider, especially going long,” Bennett said. “And Danny is a very good competitor.”

Centeno, who groomed horses in Caracas, Venezuela before becoming a jockey, is meticulous and purposeful during his morning rounds. “Every time I work a horse, I try to hear what it’s saying; how he feels and if he’s happy or something is wrong,” he said. “Then I come back to the trainer and tell him what I think, and we work together to fix things if there is a problem.”

Through today’s program, Centeno is in second place in the jockey standings with 10 victories, 10 fewer than defending champion Antonio Gallardo. Centeno says it is far too early to get caught up in the competition for the top spot.

“I went out to dinner (Wednesday night) with (Gallardo) and we didn’t even talk about horses,” Centeno said. “When he started riding here, I gave him some advice and he listened to me. I liked that because I think it made him a better rider. He can go far in racing.”

Centeno is especially close to Tampa Bay Downs newcomer Keiber Coa, the son of retired jockey Eibar Coa. Centeno and the elder Coa grew up together in Venezuela and have been friends since.

“(Centeno) is pretty much like an uncle to me, and it’s fun knowing I have ‘family’ here in Tampa,” Keiber Coa said. “I watch him ride all his good horses, and he is always giving me pointers and helping me out. I can see he is a very patient rider who takes his time with his horses, and they run for him.”

Last season, Centeno joined Pat Day, Richard Migliore and Eibar Coa as the only jockeys to win the Grade II, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby twice when he piloted 14-1 shot Ring Weekend to victory. It’s a long time until the 2015 Tampa Bay Derby on March 7, but he might have a candidate in Catalina Red, who won the six-furlong Inaugural Stakes on Dec. 6 in stakes-record time and is being pointed toward the $100,000, seven-furlong Pasco Stakes on Dec. 27.

“I think seven furlongs is going to be even easier for him,” Centeno said.

Joe Tess sharp in return. Joe Tess, a 4-year-old Virginia-bred gelding who has never finished out of the money in five Tampa Bay Downs starts, missed the track record by .35 seconds while winning the third race for horses 3-years-old-and-upward by two lengths from a game Pyrite Green.

Joe Tess sped the seven furlongs in 1:22.38 under jockey Orlando Mojica to capture the allowance/$62,500 optional claiming event. He is 3-for-5 on the Tampa Bay Downs main surface with a second and a third. Joe Tess is owned by Emerald Springs Stable and trained by Derek Ryan.

The track record of 1:22.03 was set by Good Lord in the 2013 Super Stakes.

Mojica later won the ninth race on 3-year-old Ontario-bred gelding Fabulous Bear for owner Sharon B. Simms and trainer John Simms.

Victor Lebron also rode two winners on today’s card, continuing his quiet climb up the standings. Lebron hugged the rail in the fourth race aboard 4-year-old filly Short and Sassy, who paid $25 to win for owner Cindy Patrick and breeder-trainer R. Gary Patrick.

Lebron made his next trip to the winner’s circle after the seventh race on 2-year-old colt Marine One ($14.80), owned by Woodford Racing, LLC and trained by Christophe Clement.

Holiday schedule. Tampa Bay Downs will present a 10-race Thoroughbred card Saturday beginning at 12:25 p.m. There is a Super High-5 carryover of $22,972.54. Following the first Sunday program of the 2014-2015 meeting, racing will then return Friday, Dec. 26, followed the next day by the Skyway Festival Day card featuring the $100,000 Pasco Stakes for 2-year-olds and the $100,000 Gasparilla Stakes for 2-year-old fillies.

Tampa Bay Downs is open every day except Christmas, Dec. 25. Simulcast wagering will not be offered Christmas Eve, Dec. 24. On that day, The Silks Poker Room will be open from 10 a.m.-1 a.m., and The Downs Golf Practice Facility will close at 4:30 p.m.