by Mike Henry


Trainer Jorge Fuller-Vargas with his dad, jockey Jorge L. Vargas

Samy Camacho believes he is stronger, more focused and making smarter decisions than a year ago, when he was commuting each morning from GoldMark Farm in Ocala to ride the afternoon card at Tampa Bay Downs.

His agent, Mike Moran, says that horsemen can rely on Camacho to deliver his best effort on every mount. But there are times when the 28-year-old Venezuelan needs to slow things down enough to ensure he has enough horse for a final push toward the wire.

“Samy gives 100 percent every race. It doesn’t matter if it’s a first-time starter or a green horse from Ocala, and people like that,” said Moran, a past leading Tampa Bay Downs jockey. “I’ve told him he just has to relax and have a little more patience, because you can’t ride them all the way around.

“Sometimes you need to relax and take it easy, and then when it’s time to go, you’ll ask the horse and they’ll give it to you,” Moran said.

The outgoing Camacho, who approaches each day as a learning experience, has climbed to eighth place in the Tampa Bay Downs jockey standings with 26 victories. Over a recent span of 11 racing days, he booted home two winners on four separate occasions to earn the Hampton Inn & Suites Jockey of the Month award.

Camacho has benefited from the tutelage of Moran and other valued mentors throughout the meeting. Among his numerous teachers, in addition to his agent, are fellow jockey Orlando Bocachica; leading Oldsmar rider Daniel Centeno, who is also from Venezuela; and his father Samuel Camacho, Sr., a past leading jockey at La Rinconada in Caracas who works as a hotwalker on the Oldsmar backside.

 “I talk to them every day, and I know they’re always there to help me,” said Camacho, who won the Jockeys’ Challenge during last year’s June 30-July 1 Summer Festival of Racing and Music by riding five winners. “My father tells me to stay relaxed and keep riding winners. (Centeno) is always telling me different things and he congratulates me when I win a race.

“(Bocachica) tells me to stay behind horses, try to keep my horse relaxed and then make one big move,” Camacho added.

Camacho’s brother, 26-year-old Samuel Camacho, Jr., is based in New York. “I keep telling him to come here because New York is really tough, but he never listens to me,” Samy said.

But Samy, who lives locally with his wife Kismar and their three children, plans to make Tampa Bay Downs his winter home for the foreseeable future.

“This is my place, and now that I’m here instead of driving from Ocala I can check at the barns every day and talk to trainers,” said Camacho, whose recent winners have included horses trained by Gerald Bennett, Chad Stewart, Reid Nagle and Teresa Connelly. “I just need more trainers to keep noticing me.”

Around the oval. Racing annals are full of stories of jockeys who become trainers and saddle winners ridden by their offspring. Today’s third race offered a twist, with trainer Jorge Fuller-Vargas winning with his first-ever starter, 7-year-old Florida-bred mare Elusive Harmony, ridden by his father, Jorge L. Vargas.

Elusive Harmony went to the lead soon after the start and led seven other older fillies and mares throughout the mile-and-a-sixteenth claiming event, winning by six lengths. She paid $22.80 to win.

Owned by the younger Vargas’ wife, Laurine Fuller-Vargas, Elusive Harmony is 10-for-30 lifetime.

“He (his son) does a great job with the horses, and it’s paid off,” said the 59-year-old rider, who has ridden more than 3,100 career winners. “He’s walking in the clouds right now, and I’m in the same cloud with him. I feel so glad and so proud of him.”

After debuting with a victory, the 30-year-old Fuller-Vargas teamed with his father to finish second in the ninth race on the turf with 29-1 shot Princess Rose, a 4-year-old Florida-bred filly owned in partnership by his wife and Lori L. Lockhart. Queendesanimaux won the race.

“It was a great feeling (to win with his first starter),” Fuller-Vargas said. “I’ve been waiting to do it for a long time, and to have my father aboard made it even better.”

Jorge Fuller-Vargas competed sporadically as a jockey, riding eight winners between 2010-2016. He recently took over the stable’s training duties from his wife, who is devoting the majority of her efforts to her Run for the Ribbons Thoroughbred Horse Show Series.

The Fuller-Vargases own 70-acre Cedar Lock Farm in Morriston, Fla., where they hold the shows.

“That’s her passion – helping retired racehorses find second careers, whether it’s Western, hunter-jumper, dressage or something else,” Jorge Fuller-Vargas said. “I’m a racetrack guy anyway, so it’s just easier for me to be here.”

Six stakes races worth $100,000 each comprise the 15th edition of the Florida Cup, to be held Sunday at Tampa Bay Downs.

This year’s Florida Cup will be the most lucrative ever, with purses being increased 33 percent from 2016. Races are restricted to registered Florida-breds, with three races apiece on the main dirt track and the turf course.

The Florida Cup dirt races are the six-furlong Hilton Garden Inn Sprint, for horses 4-years-old-and-upward; the seven-furlong Ocala Breeders’ Sales Sophomore, for 3-year-olds; and the seven-furlong Stonehedge Farm South Sophomore Fillies, for 3-year-old fillies.

The turf lineup includes the mile-and-a-sixteenth 14 Hands Winery Sophomore Turf, for 3-year-olds; the mile-and-a-sixteenth Pleasant Acres Stallions Distaff Turf, for fillies and mares 3-years-old and upward; and the mile-and-an-eighth EG Vodka Turf Classic, for horses 4-years-old-and-upward.

Thoroughbred racing at Tampa Bay Downs resumes Friday with a nine-race card beginning at 12:55 p.m. The Oldsmar oval conducts racing each Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday through Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands weekend May 6-7, with the exception of Easter Sunday, April 16, when the track is closed, and Wednesday, May 3.

Otherwise, 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.