Former jockey finds new appreciation for the Thoroughbred stars of the show as a hands-on conditioner; Pick-5 is hit for oodles of dough; Netherlands native Arnoud Dobber scores first career training victory.
Jose H. Delgado has been around the block. As a jockey, he captured his first victory at Gulfstream Park in 1996 when he was 17. Later that year at Calder Race Course, he hooked up with a nice horse named Wicapi, winning the Flying Pidgeon Handicap and Thanksgiving Day Handicap and finishing third in the Grade III Tropical Park Handicap.
A few years later, Delgado moved his tack to Saudi Arabia, winning his share of races and forging lifetime memories of competing in a part of the world where Thoroughbreds are still king and jockeys are treated as something akin to royalty.
Jose H. Delgado
He got to see a lot of the country upon his return, riding in Florida (including here at Tampa Bay Downs), New Jersey, Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Louisiana and Michigan, but never found another Wicapi and never came close to equaling that magical 1996 campaign of 81 victories and $850,000-plus in purse earnings.
As much as he loved riding horses, the struggle to make weight ultimately proved too large a barrier to overcome. But Delgado is putting his years of experience to good use as a trainer, winning 68 races from 256 starters since going out on his own in 2017.
“I miss being a jockey, but I don’t miss it that much,” said Delgado, recognized as the Rumba Island Bar & Grill Trainer of the Month. “I’ll still get on a few when I’m trying to figure out what to do to help them improve, but I’m comfortable training them now.”
Delgado, who is fourth in the Tampa Bay Downs standings with 10 victories, has another reason not to miss race-riding: the home-cooked meals prepared by his wife Robyn, a second-grade teacher who lives with the couple’s 7-year-old son and 3-year-old twin daughters near Monmouth Park in New Jersey.
“Yeah, she’s a good cook,” Delgado said, his enthusiasm nearly causing a listener to request a recipe or two. “She is half-Italian, and she knows how to cook very well.”
Delgado is grateful for the success he’s achieved since he began training, but his victories would feel hollow without Robyn and her efforts in raising their kids while he is away. He flew to New Jersey last weekend to see the family, and Robyn’s dinner of Seafood Alfredo made it harder to return to Tampa Bay Downs, at least from an emotional standpoint.
“It’s tough being apart this time of year, but I know she is always on top of the game raising the kids,” he said. “I’ve been blessed, and we have a great relationship.”
Caring for a stable of 18 Thoroughbred students brings their life together full circle. On Wednesday, the 41-year-old conditioner sent out 6-year-old gelding Total Tap to win a 1-mile turf claiming race at Tampa Bay Downs, nailing down the Rumba Island Bar & Grill Trainer of the Month Award.
“I’ve always liked this place,” said Delgado, who saddled 11 winners last season from 49 starters. “Horses keep sound on the main track, and we have a great turf course, one of the best in the nation. I try to run my horses where they belong and have fun with them.”
Delgado’s profile skyrocketed in 2019 when he finished fourth at Monmouth with 25 winners, from only 81 starters. His 31-percent win rate was almost equal to that posted by meet champion Jorge Navarro (68-for-219), for whom he worked as an assistant before going on his own.
“That gave me a lot of confidence, because you’re going up against the big guys there – Navarro, Jason Servis, Todd Pletcher, Chad Brown,” Delgado said. His winning ways have carried over with the likes of Rol Again Question, a 7-year-old gelding who won his first start here on Jan. 17 and has career earnings above $220,000, and Hope Again, a 4-year-old gelding who is 6-for-12 and won on the turf here on Jan. 11.
Delgado says he has gained a new, fuller appreciation for his Thoroughbreds as a trainer than he had as a jockey.
“I might be with them from 4 in the morning until 6 or 7 at night, and it can be a very hard job,” he said. “But I love what I do because I’ve learned that if you treat them right, they always try hard for you. They’ll give you 100 percent. As a trainer, it’s more work and more time spent with the horses, but the excitement I feel is not any different.”
Around the oval. One bettor hit the Pick-5 today, collecting $53,780.60 for their efforts in selecting the winners of the fifth through ninth races. The combination was 1-2-8-7-1, so perhaps it was hit by someone born on Dec. 8, 1971.
Arnoud Dobber, who only took out his trainer’s license a few weeks ago, scored his first victory as a conditioner today when his 5-year-old gelding Upper Crown won the sixth race, an $8,000 claiming contest at a distance of a mile-and-a-sixteenth, at odds of 9-1.
The Amsterdam, Netherlands native bred and owns Upper Crown, a son of Crown of Thorns out of Dobber’s 15-year-old mare Upper Gulch. Gary Wales was the jockey.
Dobber’s background is in show horses and jumpers, but he has increased his Thoroughbred holdings at his Dobber Farm in Reddick, Fla., to 10 horses and will be sending more horses postward. His (now)-8-year-old gelding Locano won two races here last season out of Rick Creel’s barn.
“I’m very happy to win this quickly (as a trainer),” said Dobber, 58. “You have to be patient, especially when you’re shipping in from the Ocala area to Tampa. Horses need a few races over the track to get their real fitness, and you can see Upper Crown’s progression” (a fifth-place finish on Dec. 18, followed by a runner-up effort on Jan. 3).
Angel Suarez rode two winners today. He captured the fourth race on the turf with I Say I Play, a 3-year-old gelding owned by Lael Stables and trained by Arnaud Delacour. Suarez added the eighth race with 3-year-old Florida-bred filly Risen Change, owned by Hemingway Racing and trained by Ian Hemingway.
Thoroughbred racing continues Friday with a nine-race card beginning at 12:45 p.m. Saturday is Cap Giveaway Day, with all fans receiving a free cap with the distinctive track logo with paid admission, while supplies last. Jockeys will be available to sign caps on the first floor of the Grandstand throughout the day, as their schedules allow.
Tampa Bay Downs is open every day except Easter Sunday, April 12 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.