by Mike Henry

Although trainer Gerald Bennett and jockey Daniel Centeno have raced to healthy leads in the early Tampa Bay Downs standings, several track newcomers are showing the ability and eagerness to shape the character of the 2016-2017 meeting.

Among the riding colony, Angel Cruz, Albin Jimenez and Edwin Gonzalez have wasted little time establishing their bona fides. Cruz and Gonzalez each have ridden three winners, while Jimenez added his fourth today.

The 21-year-old Cruz put his skills on display in today’s sixth race on the turf, rallying 8-5 favorite Conscription from the rear of the field to post a 1-length victory from Tyrannical and Centeno. The event was the Lambholm South Race of the Week.

The 3-year-old filly Conscription is a homebred racing for Pin Oak Stud and trainer H. Graham Motion.

Cruz won the 2015 spring meeting title at Aqueduct and was a finalist for an Eclipse Award as Outstanding Apprentice Jockey in 2014 and 2015. He won the Grade I Darley Alcibiades at Keeneland in October for Motion aboard Dancing Rags and also rode the 2-year-old filly in the 14 Hands Winery Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies at Santa Anita.

Jimenez, 25, has already won seven meet titles, six at Turfway Park and one at Indiana Grand. Gonzalez, who remains second in the ongoing meeting at Penn National with 129 victories and who won last week’s $100,000 Sandpiper Stakes here aboard R Angel Katelyn, led all riders with 100 or more mounts at Penn National with a 20.7 winning percentage.

In the training ranks, Jonathan Thomas (who was here for the proverbial cup of coffee a few years back) and Ignacio Correas, IV are faces serious bettors already have started paying attention to. Thomas, who has two victories, is a former Todd Pletcher assistant, while Correas, who sent out two winners today, is a multiple graded-stakes-winning conditioner who captured this year’s Grade III Arlington Handicap with the Argentina-bred Kasaqui.

Correas, who was one of the earliest arrivals among Oldsmar conditioners this season, won the eighth race on the turf on the Argentina-bred 8-year-old gelding Calvados, with Fernando De La Cruz aboard. He added the 10th race on the grass with first-time starter Wild Thing, a 2-year-old homebred gelding racing for Template Farm and ridden by Jimenez.

The moral to this short story is that while no one should expect Bennett and Centeno to stop winning races any time soon, uneasy, at least to a degree, lie the heads that wear the crowns.  

Around the oval. Centeno rode two winners today, scoring on Bennett’s 4-year-old Florida-bred gelding Inaswagger in the first and on 9-year-old gelding Lighthouse Sound in the fourth on the turf.

Inaswagger is owned by Averill Racing, Silver Oak Stable and CCF Racing Stable. Lighthouse Sound is owned by Anthony Borruso and trained by Darien Rodriguez.

The combination of trainer Dennis Ward and jockey Shannon Uske teamed up for victory for the second time at the meeting. Both winners are owned by Ridenjac Racing. They won the seventh race today with 4-year-old filly Extreme Excess.

Thoroughbred racing at Tampa Bay Downs resumes Wednesday with a nine-race card beginning at 12:25 p.m. The 2016-2017 stakes schedule picks up on Saturday, Dec. 17 with the 13th running of the $100,000 Lightning City Stakes, a 5-furlong turf sprint for fillies and mares.

Tampa Bay Downs races on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays throughout December, with the exception of Christmas Eve, Dec. 24. Sundays are added to the mix on Jan. 1. The track is open every day for simulcast wagering, no-limits poker action in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.

Jockeys to visit hospital Monday. For the third year, a group of jockeys from Tampa Bay Downs will visit children at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg. The visit will take place Monday beginning at 1 p.m.

Media members desiring to publicize this event may contact Margo Flynn, the track’s Vice President of Marketing and Publicity, or her assistant, Mike Henry, at

Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital is a leader in pediatric treatment, education, research and advocacy and provides expert care for infants, children and teens, many with potentially life-limiting illnesses.