by Mike Henry

Jason DaCosta has carved out an impressive niche since taking up residence on the Tampa Bay Downs backside at the start of the 2012-2013 meeting.

In his first year in Oldsmar, the native of Kingston, Jamaica saddled 20 winners from 58 starters, the second-best winning percentage of all trainers with 50 or more starts. Last season, he was sixth in victories with 25, and he is on pace to equal or surpass that total after climbing to fourth in the standings through today’s action with 17 victories from 63 starters.

A recent hot streak earned DaCosta the Zerillo’s Italian Grill Trainer of the Month Award. As is inevitably the case, discussion turned to his father Wayne DaCosta, a 14-time leading trainer at Caymanas Park in Jamaica whose legacy includes 1996 Triple Crown winner War Zone and Horse of the Year champions Thornbird and Ahwhofah.

“I’ve carried over most of what he taught me, but I’ve tweaked it a little with my own methods. He is a great trainer and a great horseman,” the 29-year-old DaCosta said. An assistant for his father for five years, he credits him with emphasizing the importance of being a hands-on conditioner and not taking shortcuts, invaluable advice when dealing mostly with claiming and lower-level allowance stock.

“Most of what I know I have learned from him,” the younger DaCosta said. “He is a great trainer and a great horseman.”

With a 29.5 winning percentage (62-for-210) at Tampa Bay Downs the past three years, DaCosta is doing his best to catch up to his storied and still-active father. DaCosta’s horses always appear well-prepared, and he has a skill for putting them in the right conditions and keeping them at a competitive edge.

“The first key, I think, is finding the right spot for them. You want to run them where you think they will be competitive,” DaCosta said. “The next thing is keeping them happy, sound and healthy. You have to know each horse as an individual – how much work to give them and when to back off. You have to adjust to each horse.”

More often than not, the ladder to success needs to be scaled a rung at a time. So while every Thoroughbred trainer wants a barn full of graded-stakes winners, DaCosta is happy to have the promise offered by the likes of 3-year-old fillies Red River Heidi and Beach Splash.

Red River Heidi, a daughter of Afleet Alex owned by Hawk Enterprise, Inc., broke her maiden on March 13 in a $16-$15,000 claiming race at a mile-and-40-yards by 18 ½ lengths in a performance that caused heads to swivel. Beach Splash – an Arkansas-bred competing at the same price level – won her career debut sprinting six furlongs.

Beach Splash runs for DaCosta, who purchased her for $4,500 last June at the Ocala 2-Year-Olds-In-Training Sale.

“Both of them can be anything at this point,” DaCosta said. “We knew Red River Heidi wanted to go longer, and it was pretty exciting to watch her win like that. When I saw Beach Splash in Ocala, I fell in love with her. She looked like an athlete. She looked like a racehorse.”

A major portion of DaCosta’s success can be attributed to Fernando De La Cruz; the two have been a top Oldsmar combination three meetings in a row. “Apart from him being a good rider, he knows how I like my horses to be ridden and when I want him to move on them. He always has his horses in the right position, he is really strong and I think he improves a horse,” DaCosta said.

DaCosta said the top runner in his 20-horse barn probably is Haywired, a 5-year-old gelding owned by W. Mike Anderson. The California-bred is 8-for-23 lifetime, with a pair of seconds at the current meeting.