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February 27, 2019


by Mike Henry
Darien Rodriguez has been out of money once with last 14 starters, earns Rumba Island Bar & Grill Trainer of Month honor; Antonio Gallardo, Samy Camacho and Raul Mena all ride two winners.

With only 13 horses in his stable, Darien Rodriguez might go a week without making a start. But sharp bettors have learned to peruse the entries closely to avoid letting any of Rodriguez’s horses slip away.

Since Jan. 27, the 39-year-old conditioner has won six times from 14 starters, with five seconds and two thirds. That run of success makes him the Rumba Island Bar & Grill Trainer of the Month.

Rodriguez is tied for eighth in the Tampa Bay Downs standings with nine victories, and his 28.1-percent strike rate is tied for second among all Oldsmar conditioners with 30 or more starts.


Darien Rodriguez

And while a win is a win, it is worth noting his five most recent winners posted an average margin of more than eight lengths (one, 3-year-old colt Jack B Winkle, dead-heated for first, with he and He Iz Gone 13 ¼ lengths in front of the third-place finisher).

“I run them when I think they’re ready and when I think they have a chance,” said Rodriguez, who cracked the top-10 last season with 13 victories from 46 starters. “If a horse is sick or has an issue, I don’t run them to please anybody else.

“I try to enter them in the best spot where I think they can win. You have to have a little bit of luck, too, and everything has to fall into place,” Rodriguez said. “I get most of my horses through the claiming box and sometimes they work out and sometimes they don’t, but most of the time I’ve been lucky enough to claim horses that are sound and healthy and do well.”

Rodriguez has claimed four horses at the current meeting. The 8-year-old gelding Reeder has returned for a victory and a second-place finish, and 3-year-old colt Bunster finished second in his next start. Honey Love, a 3-year-old filly, and Stay Anchored, a 4-year-old filly, have not raced since being claimed.

Rodriguez is a stickler for details, to the extent that he gallops and sometimes breezes his own horses. Connecting with them from the ground up provides insights he might not get from an exercise rider. “I get to know how they feel and how they act, and if I find something I don’t like, I can make changes to it,” he said.

That regimen is nothing new for Rodriguez, who started galloping horses for veteran trainer Miguel Feliciano after arriving in the United States from Cuba when he was 16.

“I had no ideas then about becoming a trainer,” said Rodriguez, who waited until 2010 to take out a license. “It was pretty much day by day, galloping horses, until I figured I could do it, too.

“I don’t see myself with a lot of horses. I like the size I’m at now, because I like details, and when you have a lot of horses, you start missing details. Plus, I have a kid, and I like to spend time with him.”

Rodriguez and his wife, Dainelys, have a son, Tihago, who turns 2 in a few weeks.

Rodriguez’s best horse, the now-6-year-old, Florida-bred gelding Tiger Blood, won the 2017 Pelican Stakes and the Florida Cup Hilton Garden Inn/Hampton Inn and Suites Sprint Stakes back-to-back, the latter in 1:08.92 for the 6-furlong distance, .25 seconds off the track record. Tiger Blood is currently owned and trained by Juan Arriagada.

Around the oval. Antonio Gallardo, Samy Camacho and Raul Mena each rode two winners today, while trainer Jorge Navarro sent out two winners and owner Gelfenstein Farm scored two victories.

Gallardo won the third race on Eltiojohnny, a 6-year-old gelding owned by Ad Noir and trained by Efren Loza, Jr. Gallardo added the seventh aboard Best Offer, a 7-year-old gelding owned by John Rigattieri and Manfred Roos and trained by Rigattieri.

Camacho won the eighth and ninth races back-to-back. He captured the eighth on Shafiro, a 3-year-old Florida-bred colt owned by his breeder, Gelfenstein Farm, and trained by Bernardo Lopez. Camacho returned to the winner’s circle after the ninth race on Odramark, a 4-year-old filly owned by Gelfenstein Farm and trained by Navarro.

Navarro’s other victory came in the sixth race with Pat’s Shoes, a 7-year-old gelding owned by Final Turn Racing Stable and ridden by Daniel Centeno.

Mena won the second race on Super Beautiful, a 4-year-old filly bred, owned and trained by Michael V. Laurato. Mena also won the 10th race with Without Gems, a 6-year-old Florida-bred mare owned by Robert E. Van Worp and trained by Mario Lorito.

Thoroughbred racing 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.

Taste of the bayou. On Saturday, the track will stage its first-ever “Seafood Fest & Crawfish Boil” from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. in the Backyard Picnic Area. The cost is $35 a person and features a seafood boil; shrimp; jambalaya and the fixin’s; wine-tasting; and cigar-rolling. Also included are admission to the races, a Tampa Bay Downs program and chances on a prize wheel.

Tickets can be purchased on the track website, , by clicking the Seafood Fest & Crawfish Boil icon and following the prompts. For details, call (813) 855-4401.

Hearts Reaching Out. The 27th annual “Hearts Reaching Out Golf Tournament and Fundraiser,” which benefits the Race Track Chaplaincy of America – Tampa Bay Downs Division, will be held Monday at East Lake Woodlands Country Club and Tampa Bay Downs.

The event kicks off the track’s Festival Week, which culminates in Festival Day 39 on Saturday, March 9. Five stakes worth $1-million in purse money are scheduled, including three graded events: the Grade II, $400,000 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby for 3-year-old Triple Crown prospects on the main track; the Grade II, $225,000 Hillsborough Stakes for older fillies and mares on the turf; and the Grade III, $200,000 Florida Oaks for 3-year-old fillies on the turf.

This year’s Hearts Reaching Out extravaganza features the Triple Crown golf sponsorship package. A $2,500 donation includes a foursome with golfer packages, recognition signs at the event and the sponsor’s name on hole signs. Other sponsorship opportunities are available.

The tournament, featuring a four-player scramble format, begins at 11 a.m. It is followed at 5:30 p.m. by a dinner on the first floor of the Tampa Bay Downs Grandstand, with a Charity Auction and the awards ceremony at 6 p.m.

Tickets for the dinner and auction only are $20. Among the items to be auctioned are photographs, paintings, whips, halters and other racing and sports memorabilia; gift certificates and gift cards for restaurants, movies, theaters, museums and sporting events; lottery tickets; gift baskets; and numerous other keepers.

The RTCA – Tampa Bay Downs Division, under the guidance of President Sharyn Wasiluk and Chaplain Pete Crisswell, ministers to the needs of the backstretch community by providing computer lessons, English language courses, church services, Bible study, softball, volleyball and soccer events and a March fishing trip.

The chaplaincy strives to help grooms, hotwalkers, exercise riders and stable hands achieve a life balance while entrusting them with the care of valuable equine athletes, and any public support is greatly appreciated.

The spiritual component of the RTCA – Tampa Bay Downs Division helps “to bring the word of God to everyone on the back side of the racetrack to bring as many people as possible into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, resulting in a life that is full and abundant in its nature and eternal in its scope.”

For additional details on the “Hearts Reaching Out Golf Tournament and Fundraiser,” call (813) 494-1870 or (813) 854-1313.