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April 19, 2019


by Mike Henry
"Hard-headed" veteran Dean Butler earns Señor Tequila Mexican Grill Jockey of the Month Award; nasty weather arrives on schedule, forces last seven races to be cancelled; Daniel Centeno returns to Laurel to ride Preakness prospect.

Dean Butler doesn’t mind if you think he’s hard-headed for continuing to ride Thoroughbreds at 48. Basically, he agrees.

“I’ve had nine concussions in my career. My head has taken a pretty good beating,” said Butler, who was born and grew up in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

Butler was named to ride three horses today, but he didn’t get the chance. Today’s third-through-ninth races were cancelled because of heavy rain and lightning throughout the Tampa Bay area. The decision was made for the safety of the horses, horsemen, jockeys and patrons.

All wagers on any of the cancelled races are, of course, refundable.

Thoroughbred racing continues Saturday with a nine-race card beginning at 12:25 p.m.


Dean Butler

Slightly less than two years ago, Butler incurred three fractured vertebrae in a spill at Canterbury Park in Shakopee, Minn. His injury did not require surgery, but a routine examination that included a brain scan led to doctors discovering a basilar tip brain aneurysm, a potentially life-threatening condition.

Butler underwent a procedure in September of 2017 in which doctors inserted flexible metal coils to ‘correct” the aneurysm and a stent to hold the coils in place. And, wouldn’t you know it: he was able to return to work in time for the 2017-2018 Tampa Bay Downs meeting.

He points out that had he not gone down in the Canterbury race, the aneurysm probably would not have been found and could have ruptured at a future date.

OK, you still don’t get why he stays at it. … but then, you aren’t a jockey. And the explanation is pretty simple, really.

“I love what I do, I love the horses and I love the competition,” said Butler, the Señor Tequila Mexican Grill Jockey of the Month. “And I like working with the horses to see what I can do to help get the most out of their ability.

“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do since I was a little kid, so basically I’m living my dream. As long as I’m fit and I’m feeling good and I still enjoy what I’m doing, I’m going to keep going with it.”

Butler, who has ridden 2,210 career winners, has won 10 track riding titles: five at Canterbury, four at Philadelphia (now Parx Racing) and one at Atlantic City.

He enjoyed a moment few athletes get to experience last September when he was inducted into the Canterbury Park Hall of Fame. The ceremony took on greater meaning with his father Ted and his brothers Denis, Danny and David in attendance.

“That was the first time my dad was ever at Canterbury, which made it really cool,” Butler said. “He’s 90 now and in really good health, and I’m thankful he’s still able to watch me ride.”

Displaying a flair for the dramatic, Butler rode two stakes winners on the day following the  induction ceremony. Butler’s father and brother Danny were also at Tampa Bay Downs three years ago when he notched career victory No. 2,000 on then-4-year-old gelding Impromptu.

Although he doesn’t have the volume of business at Tampa Bay Downs as in Minnesota, Butler has taken the past few weeks to remind bettors and fans that his skills haven’t eroded. Five recent victories, including four for trainer Bernell Rhone, earned him the Señor Tequila Mexican Grill honor.

Butler accepts that his business will be a little slower in Oldsmar, which allows him to spend more time with daughters Kayleigh, 12, and Kendall, 8. His passion for the job hasn’t diminished; make a road trip to Shakopee this summer to see for yourself, if you’d like.

“Some of the younger riders might look better, they might look stronger, but the knowledge and experience I have can overcome that,” said Butler, who began his career in 1992 at Aqueduct after absorbing early lessons from Hall of Fame trainer Jack Van Berg.

“The more you ride, the more you get to know how much horse you have underneath you and how fast you’re going (early in a race), and those are huge advantages,” Butler said.

It’s said that time waits for no one, but in a sport where youth cannot be denied, Butler is one of at least a half-dozen older (read: 45-and-up) Oldsmar jockeys who still can bring it, using both strength and finesse as called for.

“I’ve always been the type of rider who usually lets the horse do most of the running and lets them tell me how they want to run,” Butler said. “Then when I pick them up and ask them, hopefully they’re underneath me and they run for me.”

Sounds like the type of thrilling experience anyone can relate to.

Alwaysmining, Centeno return to action Saturday. Six-time Tampa Bay Downs champion jockey Daniel Centeno seeks to take a major step toward a Triple Crown assignment Saturday when he rides 3-year-old gelding Alwaysmining in the $125,000, mile-and-an-eighth Federico Tesio Stakes at Laurel Park in Maryland.

The Federico Tesio is an automatic “Win and In” event for the second leg of the Triple Crown, the Preakness, on May 18 at Pimlico in Baltimore. The Maryland-bred Alwaysmining is a 1-5 morning-line favorite in the Federico Tesio against five opponents.

Alwaysmining, who is owned by Runnymede Racing and trained by Kelly Rubley, has won five consecutive races at Laurel, all with Centeno aboard. The last four were stakes, including a victory in the Heft Stakes on Dec. 29 as a 2-year-old in which he defeated Pasco Stakes winner and Grade III Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby third-place finisher Win Win Win.

Although he is nominated to all three Triple Crown races, Alwaysmining has not earned any “Road to the Kentucky Derby” graded-stakes points, thus is not eligible for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve on May 4.

The entire Laurel Park card will be simulcast Saturday at Tampa Bay Downs. The Federico Tesio is the 10th race, with a scheduled post time of 5:42 p.m.

Around the oval. As mentioned above, Thoroughbred racing continues Saturday with a nine-race card beginning at 12:25 p.m. Tampa Bay Downs is closed Sunday to allow its horsemen, employees and patrons to share the Easter holiday with their families.

Beginning next week, Tampa Bay Downs will return to its Wednesday-Friday-Saturday-Sunday schedule through May 5, which is Fan Appreciation Day.

Thoroughbred racing then will return June 30 and July 1 for the track’s annual two-day Summer Festival of Racing. The Sunday, June 30 card is the last official day of the 2018-2019 meeting, with the 2019-2020 meeting beginning on Monday, July 1 and expected to resume in late November.

The Silks Poker Room will be open until 4 a.m. on Saturday night/Sunday morning, then reopen at 9:30 a.m. on Monday.

War Story, the 7-year-old gelding who won the 2018 Challenger Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs, is the morning-line, 7-2 favorite for Saturday’s Grade II, $1-million Charles Town Classic Stakes at Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races in West Virginia. Kendrick Carmouche will ride War Story for trainer Jorge Navarro.

A field of 10 is slated to contest the mile-and-an-eighth event, which is the 11th race on a Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races card that to be simulcast at Tampa Bay Downs beginning at 12:30 p.m.