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January 30, 2019


by Mike Henry
With seven victories from 16 local starts in January, Jorge Navarro is easy choice for Rumba Island Bar & Grill Trainer of Month honors; second-race winner Smoken Deb shows promise.

After earning career victory No. 1,000 in Saturday’s Grade III Fred W. Hooper Stakes at Gulfstream Park with 6-year-old gelding Aztec Sense, trainer Jorge Navarro was quick to emphasize the teamwork behind his ongoing success.

“I give thanks for my owners and my staff, because without them I probably would be sitting at 1 (victory),” said Navarro, who has won nine in a row with Aztec Sense. “My assistants make things so easy for me. All I do is make sure everything goes as straight as a line, but they’re the ones who do everything.

“I put everything on them, and they know how I want things done.”

Navarro sits atop the Gulfstream Park standings with 26 victories, but with 101 Thoroughbreds in training (the majority at Palm Meadows Training Center in Boynton Beach and Gulfstream Park West in Miami Gardens), he needs another outlet at which to compete. He eagerly snapped up stalls at Tampa Bay Downs this season, putting assistant Hendrick Chen in charge of a dozen horses.

“I like action, and I have plenty of owners who like action. I run a big operation, and if a race doesn’t go at Gulfstream, they’re willing to move their horses around to give them a chance to win a race,” he said.

The results have been impressive for the Navarro operation, which last had horses stabled here six years ago and currently has 12 on the grounds. Under the supervision of assistant Hendrick Chen, Navarro has sent out eight winners from 30 starters.

The Navarro stable turned red-hot in Oldsmar in January, sending out seven winners and three runners-up from 16 starters. The sizzling performance earned Navarro the Rumba Island Bar & Grill Trainer of the Month Award.

Navarro has seen numerous horses thrive when shipped to Tampa Bay Downs to compete on its sand-based oval, notably his outstanding 7-year-old Florida-bred sprinter X Y Jet. The multiple-Grade III stakes winner won the 6-furlong Pelican Stakes here last season by seven lengths in a dazzling 1:09.17, then finished second by a head in his next start to Mind Your Biscuits in the Dubai Golden Shaheen Sponsored by Gulf News at Meydan Racecourse in the United Arab Emirates.

“The Tampa racetrack is one of the best surfaces I’ve ever seen,” said Navarro, who plans to nominate X Y Jet for this season’s Pelican Stakes on Feb. 16, where he could meet multiple-Grade I winner Imperial Hint. “Horses are very happy at Tampa. There is something in the dirt or the water that helps horses with issues.”

Navarro has trained three Grade I winners: 2015 Priority One Jets Forego Stakes winner Private Zone, 2017 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap winner El Deal and 2017 Cigar Mile Handicap Presented by NYRA Bets winner Sharp Azteca. Some of his other standouts included graded-stakes winners War Story, Catalina Red and Delta Bluesman.

There are times when Navarro has to pinch himself to be sure his dream is real. “I’ve been on the backside of a racetrack since I was 13, starting out as a hot walker, and I’ve had great trainers around me to help teach me what to do and what not to do,” said the Panama City, Panama product, who set a Monmouth Park record last year by saddling 85 winners.

For all the outstanding horses that grab the headlines, there are scores of others that provide their own share of thrills. Such was the case on Jan. 12, when a Navarro-trained first-time starter named First Deal won a $16,000 maiden claiming race here by nine lengths in an impressive 1:10.72 for 6 furlongs.

“I’m looking forward to watching him race again,” Navarro said of the 3-year-old colt. “I still get nervous for every horse, whether it’s a $5,000 claiming horse or one racing for $1-million. I’m very passionate about what I do, and my emotions are the same for every horse I run.”

Around the oval. Trainer Alison Escobar sent out two winners today. He won the third race with Zitman, a 5-year-old gelding owned by ABC Racing and ridden by Pedro Cotto, Jr. Escobar added the ninth with El Emanuel, a 4-year-old gelding he also owns, who broke his maiden in his 21st start after three consecutive runner-up efforts. Raul Mena was the rider.

Leading trainer Gerald Bennett and jockey Daniel Centeno combined for two victories. They won the fifth race with High Five Cotton, a 5-year-old Florida-bred gelding owned by Winning Stables and Ray Rech. Bennett and Centeno added the 10th with Rattlesnakerose, a 4-year-old Florida-bred filly owned by Rech.

Smoken Deb turned in a strong performance in the second race, a five-and-a-half furlong, $40,000 maiden claiming event for 3-year-old fillies. She won in gate-to-wire fashion by five-and-a-half lengths under jockey Samy Camacho, speeding the distance in 1:03.95, slightly more than a second off the track record.

Smoken Deb is owned by Robert V. LaPenta and trained by Jonathan Thomas.

Thoroughbred racing at Tampa Bay Downs continues Friday with a 10-race card beginning at 12:45 p.m. The track is open every day for simulcast wagering, no-limits action and tournament play in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.