FERRER WINS BACK-TO-BACK RACES TO GET TO 4,000 ON CAREER

by Mike Henry

Jose Ferrer, center, reaches coveted milestone on Rocket Bottle.

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True to form, jockey Jose Ferrer displayed a minimum of emotion after notching career victory No. 4,000 aboard the 3-year-old Florida-bred filly Rocket Bottle in today’s fifth race at Tampa Bay Downs.

But his fellow riders, family members and friends could feel his joy, sense of achievement and rapid heartbeat as he entered the winner’s circle to the applause of a sun-drenched crowd of 3,618.

“Just to get the opportunity to be a part of this sport, at 51, and keep doing it the way I’m doing it, God has blessed me to continue,” said the native of Santurce, Puerto Rico, who won the fourth and fifth races back-to-back to reach the milestone. “The man upstairs has given me the strength and courage to keep going, and I appreciate it more than I did when I was younger.

“It is just a great, unbelievable feeling. Every day that I get up in the morning and get on these horses and have the opportunity to compete, I’m blessed, and I always thank God for that.”

The winner’s circle was a sea of humanity after the race, as the entire jockey colony, Ferrer’s wife Steffi and their two sons – 18-month-old Derek and infant Joseph – greeted him and his mount.

Tampa Bay Downs Vice President-General Manager Peter Berube made the presentation.

Ferrer’s victory total includes six officially credited victories at Camarero Race Track in Puerto Rico. Visitors to Thoroughbred racing’s official statistical base, www.equibase.com , will notice he is credited with 4,000 victories on his personal page and 3,994 in a separate listing of the sport’s all-time winning jockeys (tied for 67th and climbing); Equibase officials confirmed to Tampa Bay Downs a few weeks ago that the wins at Camarero count toward his official total.

Ferrer won today’s fourth race on the turf on 3-year-old Florida-bred filly Dance N Denae for owner Ridenjac Racing and trainer Dennis Ward. She paid $11.20 to win. He was confident aboard Rocket Bottle in the next, as she was cutting back in distance from seven furlongs to five-and-a-half on the main track, a distance at which they had just missed breaking her maiden on Jan. 3.

“When I got to the front, I was just going to keep going, because I knew she was going to finish strong. I thought, ‘Just let the others come get me.’ ”

Rocket Bottle finished a length ahead of Pidgeon. She paid $11.60 to win for her first victory in six lifetime starts.

Steffi Ferrer, a child on each arm, shared her husband’s happiness. “I’m just thankful and happy for him. This is a big achievement,” she said.

Owner-trainer Robert G. Smith had more than one reason to celebrate. Today is his 50th birthday.

“We were really hoping for it today, because Jose and I have been riding each other a long time,” Smith said. “We just told him to go to the lead and try to take it all the way. He’s been such a good rider for me for a long time, and we had our fingers crossed. I am just tickled to death for him.”

Ferrer had last won a race Jan. 27, but his equanimity never wavered. Faith and family have made a huge difference in the life of the veteran rider, who has four older daughters.

“That was a part of my life that was missing,” he said. “It’s awesome to have Steffi and my two sons as part of my career.”

Asking him to rank the milestone almost seems unfair; he has won 26 graded stakes, including the Grade I Spinaway at Saratoga in 2000 on Stormy Pick, and rode Hegar in the 1993 Preakness. He has won three meeting titles and won the Inaugural Angel Cordero, Jr., Jockey Challenge at El Comandante in Puerto Rico in 2003.

But seeing all his peers waiting when he returned with Rocket Bottle made the moment extra special.

“They are great kids,” he said. “They have seen me ride a long time, and I appreciate their support.”

Ferrer is tied for sixth in the current Tampa Bay Downs standings with 18 victories.

Down the stretch. Daniel Centeno continued his climb up the Oldsmar jockey standings, winning three races on today’s card. He has 40 victories, behind only Antonio Gallardo (73) and Ronnie Allen, Jr. (44).

Centeno won today’s third race on 3-year-old filly Dark Nile for owner WinStar Farm and trainer Arnaud Delacour. He added the sixth on the turf on 6-year-old Florida-bred ridgling Rico Suave for owners Averill Racing and CCF Racing Stable and trainer Gerald Bennett and notched the eighth, also on the turf, aboard 3-year-old colt Italian Charm for breeder-owner Green Hills Farm and trainer Christophe Clement. The latter was the Cody’s Original Roadhouse Race of the Week.

Tampa Bay Downs resumes racing Wednesday, with subsequent cards Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday each of the next two weeks. On Monday, which is Presidents Day, Tampa Bay Downs patrons will have the opportunity to watch three members of the local jockey colony compete in stakes races at other tracks via simulcast.

Scott Spieth – who has ridden 4,492 career winners – travels to Laurel Park in Maryland to ride 3-year-old filly Social Butterfly for WinStar Farm and trainer Shannon Ritter in the $75,000 Wide Country Stakes, the seventh race on the card. Spieth rode the filly to victory in the $50,000 Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company Sprint Stakes for sophomore fillies that have been through an OBS sales ring at the Ocala Training Center on Jan. 26.

Ronnie Allen, Jr., and Ricardo Feliciano are heading to Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach for stakes engagements. Allen will ride 8-year-old Dannhauser in the $60,000 Old Man Eloquent Stakes on the turf for owner Chester Prince and trainer Kathleen O’Connell. The Old Man Eloquent is the ninth race at Gulfstream.

Feliciano is named to ride 5-year-old gelding Cement Clement in the $50,000 Little Magician Stakes on the turf for Pat and Ron Scorese and trainer Tony Wilson. The Little Magician is the seventh race on the Gulfstream card.

Tampa Bay Downs is open every day except Easter Sunday, March 27 for simulcast wagering, no-limits poker action in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.