Although some old-timers might argue, the majority of long-time Tampa Bay Downs regulars agree the current jockey colony is the most competitive ever seen on Florida's west coast.
Today’s card featured five past Oldsmar champions: Daniel Centeno, Antonio Gallardo, Ronnie Allen, Jr., Manoel Cruz and Willie Martinez. That’s not to mention Scott Spieth and Jose Ferrer (the latter set to return from injury Friday), who merely have 8,800-plus career victories between them.
Centeno has won six Oldsmar riding titles, tied with Mike Manganello for the most in track history, and is favored to successfully defend his 2016-2017 crown. A quick start to the new campaign, with three victories Saturday and one today aboard 2-year-old gelding Gallows Bay in the eighth race, has earned him the Señor Tequila Mexican Grill Jockey of the Month Award.
Staying on top, Centeno knows, will require bringing his A-game each and every day, because his pursuers – who include a number of young, hungry riders lesser-known by many – are in this for the long haul.
But the talented, hard-working Venezuelan, who has ridden 2,574 winners in North America, isn’t obsessed with the standings.
“Every year is a new meet, and every year the colony is competitive,” Centeno said. “So (another title) is not something I’m thinking about now. I’m just trying to keep healthy and keep doing my job, and hopefully everything will work out well.”
OK, those kind of quotes aren’t going to make tabloid headlines. But his even-keeled, day-to-day approach is appreciated by the majority of horsemen Centeno rides for, including Arnaud Delacour, the trainer of Gallows Bay.
“Danny is the ultimate professional,” said Delacour, who has used Centeno on a number of stakes winners. “He has a lot of experience, he’s a very athletic jockey and he’s very strong in his finishes. He studies races and does his homework, and he usually has a pretty good idea of what’s going to happen before he gets on a horse. That, to me, is the key to his consistency.”
That consistency is almost legendary at Tampa Bay Downs, where Centeno strung together four consecutive riding titles from 2006-2010 while averaging 1.48 winners per performance.
Centeno has won the Grade II Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby twice: aboard Musket Man (2009, as a Grade III) and Ring Weekend (2014).
With his 46th birthday a few weeks away, Centeno looks as fit as ever, and he permits few distractions to his job. “I just have to keep working, stay focused and try my best on every horse I ride,” he said.
Five more years, or maybe 10? “I can’t tell you that,” Centeno says, allowing a smile to escape. “Only God knows that, but hopefully I stay healthy and fit.”
Delacour has no concerns that Centeno will manage to do just that. “To ride at his level, you need a lot of discipline as far as nutrition and taking care of yourself, and obviously he is doing that well.
“I think he won on the first horse I ever put him on, and he was all business when I met him 10 or 11 years ago. That says a lot for his ability and dedication to the sport,” Delacour said. “And he always comes back from a race and gives us good feedback. It’s nice when you can work as a team like that.”
Hinsley mare sells high. Two-time Minaret Stakes winner You Bought Her, in foal to 2014 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner California Chrome, sold for $250,000 to Margaret Dunaine at the recent Keeneland November Breeding Stock Sale in Lexington, Ky.
The price was the highest for any of the nine broodmares sold in foal to the two-time Horse of the Year. California Chrome, who is at Taylor Made Stallions in Nicholasville, Ky., stands for a stud fee of $40,000.
Previously owned by her trainer, Tampa Bay Downs horseman David Hinsley, and his wife Sharon in partnership with Richard Perkins, the 7-year-old Florida-bred mare concluded her racing career in February with nine victories from 50 starts and earnings of $530,185.
You Bought Her won the Minaret Stakes in 2015 and 2016, blazing the six-furlong distance in 1:09.92 in her first triumph.
“She was a dream to be around,” said Hinsley, a one-time jockey who has managed Hinsley Racing Stable for more than 30 years and trained Grade III winner Rumor Has It. “She could run on dirt, turf and Polytrack, and she loved to travel. You could put her in the back of the pickup and nothing ever bothered her.”
Hinsley’s success with You Bought Her seems more remarkable in light of her $18,000 purchase price as a 2-year-old-in-training, plus the fact she did not run for almost eight months after surgery to remove a bone chip following her fifth start as a 2-year-old.
It seemed fitting for You Bought Her to be sold at Keeneland, where she was 3-for-3, posting victories in the fall of 2014, 2015 and 2016 against allowance/optional claiming competition.
“The only regret I probably have is that we didn’t get to run her in a stakes at Keeneland, but winning there three times was a great accomplishment,” Hinsley said. “We’re going to try to find another one like her, but it won’t be easy.”
Around the oval. Three-time leading jockey Antonio Gallardo rode two winners today, both on the turf. He won the seventh race aboard 2-year-old filly Outrank, owned and trained by Eoin Harty. Gallardo added the ninth on Publicist, a 5-year-old Florida-bred mare owned by Averill Racing and trained by Ralph Ziadie.
The “10 Days of Festivus Challenge” handicapping contest begins on Saturday. The popular, Survivor-format event, which is free to enter, runs through the Dec. 23 Oldsmar card. There is no charge to enter, but participants may purchase lifelines upon sign-up and on both Dec. 16 and Dec. 20.
The winner receives $1,000 and the runner-up collects $500. For details and to register, visit www.festivuschallenge.com on the Internet.
Thoroughbred racing at Tampa Bay Downs continues Friday with a nine-race card beginning at 12:24 p.m. The feature is the sixth race, a $27,500 allowance/optional claiming event for 2-year-olds sprinting five-and-a-half furlongs.
Tampa Bay Downs is on a Wednesday-Friday-Saturday racing schedule, adding Sundays to the mix on Dec. 31. The track is open every day except Christmas, Dec. 25, for simulcast wagering, no-limits poker action and tournament play in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.