by Mike Henry

Daniel Centeno rode two winners today, extending his lead over Ronnie Allen, Jr., to 53-43 as Tampa Bay Downs entered the second half of its 2016-2017 meeting.

Both consummate professionals who bring their “A” games on a day-in, day-out basis, Centeno and Allen have combined for nine Oldsmar titles, with Centeno seeking a record sixth this season. Each jockey sets an example for younger riders by supplementing their skills and experience with a thorough understanding of how the track is playing on a particular day (whether speed or closers are favored, if it’s better to be inside or outside, etc.).

Assuming they both stay healthy, it is clearly up to Allen to make a race of it when April rolls around.

Allen’s stablemate Pablo Morales (both use former jockey Paula Bacon as their agent) has climbed into semi-contention, winning one race today to reach 40 victories. Morales has always had the know-how, but he’s worked extensively with a personal trainer, even taking boxing lessons, to add strength and enhance his finishing ability.

Next in the standings is Edwin Gonzalez, a Tampa Bay Downs newcomer who has 36 victories. Gonzalez, who broke in briefly at Calder in Miami when he was 18, made a name for himself by winning several graded stakes at Camarero Race Track in Puerto Rico early in his career and has made a smooth transition to the Oldsmar oval after excelling last year at Penn National.

Fernando De La Cruz (33 victories) and Jesus Castanon (30), who each won a race today, are long shots to reach the top, but they provide a depth of talent not seen here in recent years.

Rounding out the top 10 are Orlando Bocachica, 17 victories; Wilmer Garcia, 16; Samy Camacho, 14; and Leandro Goncalves, Ademar Santos and Jose Ferrer, each with 13.

Centeno won the third race today on the 3-year-old Florida-bred filly Joel’s Senorita, a homebred racing for owner Lorna L. Possler and conditioned by leading trainer Gerald Bennett. Joel’s Senorita was claimed from the race by trainer Dennis Ward for his Ridenjac Racing outfit.

Centeno also won the sixth race on the turf with a well-timed effort aboard Eye of Ra, a 4-year-old homebred Florida lass owned by Beverly S. Anderson and Edward A. Seltzer and trained by Ben Colebrook.

Thoroughbred racing at Tampa Bay Downs resumes Wednesday with a nine-race card beginning at 12:25 p.m.

“Hearts Reaching Out” event upcoming. Preparations are underway for the 25th annual “Hearts Reaching Out” Golf Tournament, Dinner and Charity Auction, to be held Monday, March 6. The event kicks off the track’s Festival Week, to be highlighted by the Grade II, $350,000 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby on March 11. “Hearts Reaching Out” benefits the Race Track Chaplaincy of America—Tampa Bay Downs Division and those individuals at the track served by the RTCA.

The RTCA—TBD Division golf tournament, which is a four-person scramble, will be played at Cheval Golf and Athletic Club in nearby Lutz, with an 11 a.m. shotgun start. Dinner is at 5:30 p.m. on the first floor of the Tampa Bay Downs Grandstand, followed by the live and silent auctions.

Items to be bid on during the auctions include horse racing and sports memorabilia, signed photographs and paintings, tickets to sporting events and gift baskets. There will also be a raffle for a Corriente saddle donated by Wayne Baize, a popular Cowboy Artist. Raffle tickets are $10 and will be available at the Chaplain’s office on the Tampa Bay Downs backside in the days leading to the event.

Cost for the tournament, dinner and auction is $100, with a $20 cost to those attending only the dinner and auction. Groups or individuals can sponsor a hole with signage at the tournament for $125. Table sponsorships for the dinner and auctions are also available, and the chaplaincy is accepting donations.

For details, call the Chaplain’s office at (813) 854-1313 or RTCA—TBD President Sharyn Wasiluk at (813) 494-1870.

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.