YOUTH MUST BE SERVED, AND COA WANTS TO MAKE IT HAPPEN NOW

by Mike Henry

When jockey Keiber Coa suffered a hairline fracture of his pelvis in an accident at Delaware Park on Oct. 17, his doctor expected him to miss at least three months. But the 23-year-old native of Venezuela had other ideas.

“I really wanted to be able to ride here from the start, because this is a real tough meet and I didn’t want to lose business I had started to accumulate in Delaware,” Coa said after gaining his first victory of the Tampa Bay Downs season aboard the 4-year-old gelding Dickens in the eighth race.

“This is how I make my living, and if I’m not riding, I’m not making money. It’s a tough game for sure, and I have to work three times harder than I did last year if I want it to pay off,” Coa said.

The son of retired top jockey Eibar Coa, who was injured at Delaware when his horse flipped and landed on him going from the paddock to the track, began his own regimen of therapy and exercise to prepare for a quick return to action and was able to begin riding again a week before Thanksgiving. Getting the OK to ride races for Saturday’s Opening Day card was music to his ears, and he found the winner’s circle today after a good second in the sixth race aboard Allie Sweet.

Dickens staged an impressive rally in the six-furlong, maiden claiming event to defeat pace-setter Antoine’s by a length. The winner is owned by Lambholm Stable and trained by Roy S. Lerman. “This is the first time I’ve ridden for these connections, and those are the kind of opportunities you want,” he said. “I thought (Antoine’s) was going pretty good, but mine had a nice late kick and was able to get there first.”

Coa was one of a number of under-30 jockeys to win on today’s card. Fernando De La Cruz, 29, captured a pair of victories, winning the fourth race on 3-year-old filly Flashy Won for owner Ballybrit Stable and trainer Michael Dini and adding the sixth on 4-year-old filly Mongolian Honey for owner-trainer Jason DaCosta.

Chelsey Keiser, 23, won the opener on 15-1 shot Colonel Jordan, a 4-year-old gelding owned and trained by DaCosta. The 21-year-old Brandon Boulanger won the fourth race on the turf on 23-1 shot Vera’s Finally, a 2-year-old Florida-bred filly owned by Patricia Generazio and trained by Jose Chavez. Defending track champion Antonio Gallardo, 28, won the fifth on the turf on 8-year-old gelding Lighthouse Sound for owner Midwest Thoroughbreds, Inc., and trainer Jamie Ness.

If today’s jockey’s average winning age seemed to need balancing, 51-year-old Ronnie Allen, Jr., was happy to oblige. The four-time track riding champion won the ninth and final race on the turf on Alifyfe Racing’s 4-year-old Florida-bred filly Babe’s Ruler, trained by Joan Scott.

Babe’s Ruler was claimed from the race by trainer Jamie Ness for $16,000 for his ownership entity, Jagger, Inc.

Today’s feature race, the Lambholm South Race of the Week at a mile on the turf, was won by another old-timer, 31-year-old Victor Lebron. He guided the 3-year-old filly Factory of Faith to a triumph for owner Allied Racing Stable and trainer William “Buff” Bradley.

Thoroughbred racing at Tampa Bay Downs resumes Wednesday with a nine-race card beginning at 12:27 p.m. Racing is currently on a Wednesday-Friday-Saturday schedule, with Sundays added to the mix on Dec. 20. The track is open every day except Christmas, Dec. 25, for simulcast wagering, no-limits poker action in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.