Kent Sweezey is Salt Rock Tavern Trainer of the Month; Daniel Centeno has 11 victories over last six racing days.
By mid-afternoon Monday, less than 24 hours after winning Sunday’s seventh race with his 6-year-old Florida-bred mare, Imperial Sea, Kent Sweezey was on the road to Lexington, Ky., looking to add key pieces to his barn from the offerings at the Keeneland April Sale of Two-Year-Olds in Training and Horses of Racing Age.
Traveling long distances in pursuit of quality Thoroughbreds – and the opportunity to broaden his knowledge and horsemanship – is nothing new for the 33-year-old trainer, who took the Irish National Stud Breeding Course in 2007 before moving to New Zealand and Australia to prep yearlings for sales.
When he returned home, Sweezey went to work for his father, former Darby Dan Farm general manager Wayne Sweezey, at the family’s fledgling Timber Town Stable operation in Lexington, Ky. It wasn’t until trainer Christophe Clement visited Timber Town and asked the younger Sweezey about his plans that he decided to give the racetrack a try.
Working under such industry standouts as Clement in south Florida, Eoin Harty in southern California and Jimmy Jerkens in New York allowed Sweezey to work with numerous stakes-winning standouts. The experiences also provided an impetus to set out on his own to see if he could acquire the knack to win races.
“Everybody does things a little differently, and I’ve picked up things from everybody I’ve worked with that I’ve tried to make my own,” Sweezey said earlier this season. “It’s pretty cool and a credit to them.”
Sweezey acknowledges leaving Jerkens’ employ was a difficult decision after being around the likes of such Grade I winners as Travers champ V. E. Day, Twinspires.com Wood Memorial winner Wicked Strong and Breeders’ Cup Classic runner-up Effinex. But his apprenticeship, so to speak, had run its course, and it was time to prove what he had absorbed.
Now, in his second season at Tampa Bay Downs, Sweezey is starting to compile his own list of credits. Five recent victories have enabled him to move into 11th place in the Oldsmar standings with 11 victories, as well as earning him the Salt Rock Tavern Trainer of the Month Award.
“I told myself at the start of the meeting that if I could win 10 races, it would be a great season,” Sweezey said. “I like setting goals and it’s special when you’re able to reach them, but you want to keep aiming higher.”
Several of Sweezey’s recent victories have come at the maiden claiming level. It is no easy feat at times to convince an owner to drop their horse into lesser company while affixing a “for-sale” sign, but it can sometimes be a necessity when the objective is winning a race.
“It took me a while to figure out what kind of races they write here and to know where my horses best fit,” he said. ‘The main thing is to use what they give you. Tampa has a great backside, a good racetrack and an excellent gate crew, and it’s a good place to spend the winter. And my team has done a great job contributing to my success.”
Sweezey plans to race this spring and summer at Monmouth Park in New Jersey, while shipping to New York and other mid-Atlantic tracks when the opportunities arise. He is pointing the Robert S. Evans-bred-and-owned homebred 5-year-old horse Dover Cliffs to the Cliff Hanger Stakes on May 4 on the turf.
He also hopes to find a lucrative spot for Warm, a 3-year-old filly bred and owned by Leverett and Linda Miller, who finished second by a neck in her most recent start on the grass to the Bill Mott-trained Aunt Hattie.
Time will tell whether Sweezey can find a few more “horses to beat” of his own before horsemen return to Oldsmar next fall, but it seems likely he knows most of the good places to look.
Around the oval. Daniel Centeno rode three winners today, giving him 11 over the last six racing days. Centeno won the fifth race on the turf aboard Citizen Matzo, a 4-year-old filly bred and owned by Masie Stable and trained by Roy Lerman. He scored in the sixth race with Rol Again Question, a 6-year-old gelding owned by Midnight Stables and trained by Jose H. Delgado.
Centeno then added the eighth on the turf with an exquisitely timed rally on Miss Jen, a 4-year-old filly owned by PTJ Stable and trained by Luis Carvajal, Jr.
Antonio Gallardo also rode three winners. Gallardo won the first race on Descarado, a 7-year-old Florida-bred mare owned by MCR Stable and trained by Benny R. Feliciano. Descarado was claimed from the race for $5,000 by trainer Michael Stidham for new owner Ben Trask.
Gallardo added the fourth race on first-time starter Lil Bubbly, a 3-year-old Florida-bred filly bred and owned by Tom McCrocklin and trained by Kathleen O’Connell.
Gallardo notched the ninth and final race on the turf on Lyrical Note, a 3-year-old Florida-bred colt bred and owned by Woodford Thoroughbreds and trained by O’Connell. Lyrical Note was claimed for $32,000 by trainer Joan Scott for new owner Lucio Tucci.
Thoroughbred racing continues Friday with a nine-race card beginning at 12:30 p.m. Tampa Bay Downs races on a Wednesday-Friday-Saturday-Sunday schedule through Sunday, May 5, with the exception of Easter Sunday, April 21, when the track is closed.
Otherwise, Tampa Bay Downs 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.
May 5 is Fan Appreciation Day. Grandstand admission and parking are free. From 11 a.m.-3 p.m., Nathan’s hot dogs and fountain sodas are $1.50 and 16-ounce domestic draft beers are $2.50.