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April 25, 2018


by Mike Henry
Low-key conditioner Darien Rodriguez has won with his last four starters and six of his last eight; Samy Camacho, Antonio Gallardo and Pablo Morales each ride two winners; Daniel Centeno wraps up Oldsmar season.

When his 3-year-old Florida-bred filly Crown and Sugar won the seventh race on the turf on Friday at Tampa Bay Downs, Darien Rodriguez was blissfully unaware that it was his 100th career victory as a trainer.

Instead, Rodriguez’s greatest delight was hoisting his 1-year-old son Tihago on his shoulder as he strode into the winner’s circle.

“He (Tihago) is a very outgoing little guy who likes the outdoors,” said Rodriguez, “and I’m always trying to find ways to be with him because I spend a lot of time at the track. I’m sure he doesn’t know what’s going on, but he’s smiling all the time, so he seems to enjoy it.”

Like many young couples at the racetrack, Darien and his wife Dainelys seek a balance between a strong family life and meeting the vast demands of running a racing stable. That explains, in part, why Rodriguez chooses to keep his numbers low, currently carrying nine horses.

“I guess I’ve always been a low-key person who is happy with what I have,” said Rodriguez, who still managed to earn the Tampa Bay Brewing Company Trainer of the Month Award by saddling four consecutive winners, and six from eight starters (with two seconds), over a period of five racing days, culminating with Crown and Sugar’s triumph.

“I don’t have the ego where I want 80 or 100 horses. If I have five horses, I’ll do the best I can with them, and if I have 20 I’ll do the best I can with those. If more horses come along, I’ll take them, but it’s not like I’m begging people to get horses.”

Rodriguez’s ongoing hot streak has enabled him to climb into a tie for ninth in the Oldsmar standings with 13 victories from 46 starters. He will look to continue his winning ways this spring and summer at Presque Isle Downs in Erie, Penn.

A native of Santa Clara, Cuba, the 38-year-old conditioner came to the United States when he was 16 with his father and his grandfather (Darien’s mother remained in Cuba). The Rodriguez men first arrived in Pittsburgh, where they met a car dealer who owned racehorses and agreed to give the teenager a job at his farm in Ohio if Darien went to school and worked on his English language skills.

Although the chance meeting might seem the epitome of “being in the right place at the right time,” Rodriguez never doubted his path would unfold along those lines.

“I had lived on a farm in Cuba and been around horses and all kinds of animals from an early age,” said Rodriguez. “When we came from Cuba, I pretty much had it in my mind that I was going to work with horses. I wasn’t sure how, because I didn’t know anybody, but I knew that’s what I wanted to do.”

Rodriguez had the additional good fortune in Ohio of meeting Thistledown Race Track trainer Miguel Feliciano, who suggested the youngster gallop for him at Tampa Bay Downs once Rodriguez decided he preferred warmer climes during the winter.

Rodriguez – who had hoped to become a jockey before realizing he couldn’t make weight – put his lessons from such trainers as Feliciano, Judi Hicklin, Tom Proctor and Leigh and Arnaud Delacour to good use, using each gallop session to forge a working relationship with those horses entrusted to him.

“Everybody trains a little different,” Rodriguez said. “I think I have an advantage sometimes getting on my horses, because I have it in my mind how a horse is going to gallop, and if he doesn’t feel the way I want him to it forces me to change my mind and find out what’s going on.

“I also like to ride them for their final breeze (workout) before a race,” Rodriguez said. “It lets me see how they’re feeling coming into a race. If I’m not happy about how they work, we’ll skip the race and find something else.”

Rodriguez, who raised his profile last season by training Florida-bred Tiger Blood to back-to-back victories in the Pelican Stakes and the Florida Cup Hilton Garden Inn/Hampton Inn and Suites Sprint, endeavors to enter his horses where he believes they can be consistently competitive. It’s a basic strategy that has him winning at a 25.4-percent clip (100-for-394) since taking out his trainer’s license in 2010.

“I thought (his last four starters) all had a chance to win because they’d been training well, but putting them in the right spot helps,” he said. “If I have the right horses and can keep placing them where they belong, I think that’s the key (to continued success).”

Around the oval. Samy Camacho, Antonio Gallardo and Pablo Morales each rode two winners today. Camacho has 37 winners over the last 16 racing days at the Oldsmar oval and has won at least one race a day during that period.

Camacho captured the fourth race aboard Southernperfection, a 4-year-old filly owned and trained by Elliot Sullivan. Camacho added the seventh race on the turf with Philo, a 4-year-old gelding owned by Catherine M. Wills and trained by Arnaud Delacour.

Philo was claimed from the victory by trainer Randy Rarick for new owner Lynn Rarick.

Gallardo won the fifth race on the turf on Stormy Arabella, a 3-year-old filly owned by Philip Stathatos and trained by Monte Thomas. Gallardo added the eighth race on first-time starter Citizen Matzo, bred and owned by Masie Stable and trained by Roy Lerman.

Morales won the first race on Ten Penny Princess, a 6-year-old mare bred and owned by Three Crowns Farm and trained by John Rigattieri. Morales added the ninth with Fox Rox, a 7-year-old gelding owned by Martinez Polo and Racing and trained by Ronald Connelly.

Six-time Tampa Bay Downs champion jockey Daniel Centeno announced he is moving his tack to the mid-Atlantic region after today. He is third in the Oldsmar standings with 83 victories.

Racing continues Friday with a nine-race card beginning at 12:50 p.m. Tampa Bay Downs conducts racing each Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday through May 6, with the exception of May 2.

Sunday, May 6 is Fan Appreciation Day at Tampa Bay Downs, with free parking and free Grandstand admission and discounted prices on draft beers, sodas and Nathan’s Hot Dogs from 11 a.m.-3 p.m.

Thoroughbred racing will return to the Oldsmar oval on June 30 and July 1, dates which make up the track’s annual “Summer Festival of Racing.” The June 30 card is the official final day of the 2017-2018 meeting, while the July 1 program is the first day of the 2018-2019 season, expected to then resume in late November.

Tampa Bay Downs is open every day for simulcast wagering, no-limits poker action and tournament play in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.

Three horses that have competed at Tampa Bay Downs this season are expected to be part of a 20-horse field of 3-year-olds on May 5 for the mile-and-a-quarter Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve, the first leg of the Triple Crown.

That trio includes Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes winner and Grade II Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby runner-up Flameaway; unbeaten Magnum Moon, who won an allowance/optional claiming race here on Feb. 15 and has since won the Grade II Rebel Stakes and Grade I Arkansas Derby; and Vino Rosso, who won an allowance/optional claiming race here on Dec. 22 and finished third in the Sam F. Davis and fourth in the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby before winning the Grade II Wood Memorial Stakes presented by NYRA Bets at Aqueduct.

The connections of Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby winner Quip have decided to point their colt to the Preakness on May 19 at Pimlico.

Available reserved seating on Kentucky Derby Day at the Oldsmar oval is limited to Grandstand seats at $10 each. All other seating is available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Fans may reserve seats by visiting on the Internet and clicking the “PREMIER DAY TICKETS” icon.

Mint juleps will be sold in commemorative Kentucky Derby glasses.

Call (813) 855-4401 for additional details on the Kentucky Derby Day celebration at the Oldsmar oval.