Although he is closing in on track history, jockey Daniel Centeno chooses to keep his focus squarely on his next race.
The 45-year-old Centeno’s path to a record sixth Tampa Bay Downs riding title grew rockier on March 10, when Oldsmar newcomer Edwin Gonzalez rode six winners on a single card. With four weeks left in the meeting, plus the June 30 Summer Festival of Racing card, Centeno owns a comfortable but not insurmountable 79-71 advantage from Gonzalez.
Both riders won a race on today’s card.
Centeno, who won four consecutive Oldsmar titles from 2007-2010 and another in 2013, is glad to answer questions about his pursuit. But he is taking a “come-what-will” approach while attempting to win enough races to stave off his hard-charging, 25-year-old rival and four-time champ Ronnie Allen, who has 67 victories.
“He (Gonzalez) wants to win it, I bet, and I do, too,” Centeno said today. “I ride with him up north, too, and he’s a good rider and a good kid. But I don’t go out there thinking about the standings. I just want to be focused on my job, my races and every horse that I ride. I don’t want to start thinking about the title and put more pressure on myself.”
Centeno’s four-year streak of consecutive titles was domination on a large scale. He rode 540 winners at Tampa Bay Downs over that period, an average of 1.48 winners per performance. His 2007-2008 meeting total of 144 victories stood as the track record until Antonio Gallardo rode 147 winners two years ago.
Centeno captured the 2012-2013 title with 90 victories. He also captured the 2010 title at Presque Isle Downs in Pennsylvania.
For a jockey winning at a 22.4-percent clip, the best of any regular jockey at the meeting, the native of Caracas, Venezuela – who rode for 14 years in his homeland before coming to the United States – has been relatively quiet this season. His two stakes victories came early in the meeting, aboard Power Alert in the Turf Dash Stakes and on No Fault of Mine in the Wayward Lass Stakes.
The addition to the colony of such new faces as Gonzalez, Wilmer Garcia and Orlando Bocachica; the return of past Oldsmar riding champion Jesus Castanon; typically strong seasons by Ronnie Allen, Jr., Pablo Morales and Fernando De La Cruz; and a slight decrease in average field size, all have contributed to fewer opportunities.
Centeno is on pace to ride 417 horses this season, which would be 30 fewer than last year, when he won 98 races to finish second to Gallardo.
“The competition is more wide-open this year. We’ve got a lot of good riders who are taking business, and there are a few trainers I’ve ridden for before who didn’t come here this year,” Centeno said. “But I’ve had a good meet, so I can’t complain.
“I just do my job every day, try to win my races and keep the people I ride for happy,” he added.
Around the oval. Jockey Pablo Morales was transported to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Tampa with a slight concussion after falling from his mount, 3-year-old colt Inkspired, in the sixth race, the annual Oldsmar Cup on the turf.
Morales hit his head hard against the ground when he fell, his helmet flying off. He was able to stand on his own after the incident but appeared woozy. Inkspired, a Dale Bennett-trainee, appeared to be uninjured.
Yorky crossed the wire first in the Oldsmar Cup, but was disqualified for interference in the stretch, making a winner of 3-year-old gelding Speed Game, a homebred racing for owner Charles Lo and trained by Tom Proctor. Ronnie Allen, Jr., was the winning jockey.
The veteran Allen also won the seventh race, the Cody’s Original Roadhouse Race of the Week, aboard 3-year-old Florida-bred filly J’s Indian Charm for owner Janis K. Maitlen and trainer Maria Bowersock. The four-time Tampa Bay Downs riding champion now has 3,497 career winners.
Fernando De La Cruz, back in the saddle after hurting his shoulder two days ago, also rode two winners. He captured the fourth race on the turf on Holiday Laughter, a 3-year-old filly owned by Versatile Thoroughbreds and trained by David Hinsley.
De La Cru also won the ninth and final race on the turf on I. Damiana, a 3-year-old filly owned by Leonard Racing Stable and trained by George Leonard, III.
Thoroughbred racing resumes Wednesday with a nine-race card beginning at 12:45 p.m. Tampa Bay Downs conducts racing each Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday through the May 6-7 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands weekend, with the exception of Easter Sunday, April 16, when the track is closed, and 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.