by Mike Henry


Jean Claude Medina

Doctors told jockey Jean Claude Medina he should find another occupation after he suffered a broken elbow and a collapsed lung when his mount clipped heels in a race at Tampa Bay Downs in April of 2015 and threw him to the turf.

But riding horses means too much to the native of Chosica, Peru to turn his back on a sport that has taught him to persevere in the face of extreme hardships.

“Doctors will tell you not to come back, but jockeys never hang with that because we have this in the blood, and the horses always bring you back to the racetrack,” Medina said about a half-hour after winning today’s fourth race at Tampa Bay Downs on 64-1 shot Blessed At Mass, a 5-year-old Florida-bred horse owned by Leon McKanas and Jacqueline Iannuzzi and trained by McKanas.

The victory was the first for the 36-year-old Medina since 2014, when he rode 27 winners to finish 10th in the standings at Suffolk Downs in Massachusetts. It came in Medina’s fourth mount since his return to the saddle at the current Oldsmar meeting.

Medina, who missed nearly all of 2010 after breaking his leg, never seriously considered retirement during his recent ordeal. He worked at the nearby Innfields Training Center in Odessa while he was rehabilitating and believed his fitness level made a comeback possible.

“Sometimes I felt I wouldn’t make it, but when I started working and my mind kept getting stronger and I knew my weight was OK, I thought ‘Oh my God, I have to come back,’ ” he said.

The victory on Blessed At Mass, in a mile-and-40-yard race for $5,000 claiming horses, came by a length from 21-1 shot I Cat. Blessed At Mass paid $131.80 to win and the 9-8 exacta paid $830.20.

Medina kept his horse outside and in mid-pack up the backstretch before summoning a rally on the far turn. “Winning again is something I can’t describe,” he said. “I’m doing this because it’s what I love. I can’t live my life without racing. That’s why when the doctor told me I would never come back, I knew it was too soon for me to stop.”

Medina expressed his appreciation to McKanas, the ownership at Innfields and his family for their support. He has two daughters, Molly and Valentina, who live in Peru, and a girlfriend, Chrissy, who resides in the Tampa Bay area.

“My family was afraid for me to come back because I’ve had two accidents, but they know how much I love this,” he said. “Their support means everything.”

Around the oval. Thoroughbred racing at Tampa Bay Downs resumes on Friday with a nine-race card starting at 12:25 p.m. The feature is the second race, the $27,500 Tampa Bay Prep at a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the turf course.

The race for older horses serves as a prep for the Grade III, $150,000 Tampa Bay Stakes on the Feb. 11 Festival Preview Day Presented by Lambholm South card. Heading the six-horse field are a pair of Grade III winners: 6-year-old War Correspondent, from the barn of Christophe Clement, and 4-year-old Dubai Sky, trained by William Mott.

Leading Tampa Bay Downs jockey Daniel Centeno and Jesus Castanon each rode two winners today. Centeno captured the second race on Oatfield, a 4-year-old colt owned by Donegal Racing and trained by Jordan Blair. The rider added the third race aboard 4-year-old Florida-bred filly Looking At Beauty for owner Tom Gregerson and trainer Chad Stewart.

Castanon took the sixth and eighth races on the turf. In the sixth, he won on 1-5 favorite Profiteer, a 3-year-old colt bred and owned by Stuart S. Janney, III and trained by Claude “Shug” McGaughey. Castanon added the eighth race on Kutschman, a 5-year-old homebred gelding owned by RSL Racing Stable and trained by Benny R. Feliciano.

There will be a special post time of 12:55 p.m. on Saturday.

 Tampa Bay Downs is open every day 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.