by Mike Henry

Entering Saturday’s action, Joseph Minieri has won with six of his most recent 16 starters. Yet he feels about the same as he did on the morning of March 11, when he wondered if his 5-year-old gelding Seventysevenwilow might break the trainer’s 0-for-21 start to the current Tampa Bay Downs meeting.

Seventysevenwilow rallied to win the seven-furlong claiming race by a head, kick-starting Minieri’s recent surge that culminated with him receiving the Tampa Bay Brewing Company Trainer of the Month award.

Although he appreciates the recognition and hopes the good times continue to roll, Minieri appeared to be taking his success in stride Thursday morning as he grazed his 4-year-old gelding Bold Response outside Barn 26.

“There is a lot of luck involved,” Minieri said, perhaps referring to both receiving the award and horse racing in general. “I don’t see myself as a genius. It’s just being in the right place at the right time, and everything has to fall into place.”

Although he has owned racehorses since the early 1980s, Minieri waited until 2012 to take out his trainer’s license. He had worked in the restaurant business since emigrating from Italy in 1969 at age 17, owning and operating a seafood restaurant in Maine for 15 years and then running an Italian restaurant in Massachusetts from 1998-2008.

While the 64-year-old Minieri can attest that “winning is the name of the game” and “ya gotta eat,” his “new life” at the racetrack revolves around much more than upset victories and photo-finish setbacks.

“I’d had enough of working inside. I wanted to be out in the fresh air and not have so much pressure, so I went and bought some horses and started playing,” Minieri said. “It’s been a lot of fun. You go at your own pace, and working with horses is mind-relaxing, for the most part.

“I spend a lot of time with them, but if you love the animals, that’s what keeps you going. I treat them like they’re my kids. Like any business, you try to make the best decisions you can, and sometimes the best thing you can do is drop them to a lower level (of competition) where they can win.”

Minieri’s recent hot streak included back-to-back victories by 4-year-old gelding Catcher, owned by Richard Hymoff and Harriet Perlman, and an April 19 maiden claiming victory by his 3-year-old filly, Miss Racey Bike.

Minieri added blinkers to the filly, who responded by sprinting clear from the gate under jockey Luis Figueroa and holding on for a half-length victory.

 “I’m a guy who doesn’t give up,” said Minieri, whose current nine-horse string includes his good allowance 4-year-old gelding, Peppi the Hunter, whom he bought for $15,000 as a yearling at Keeneland. “I might not be as good as the other guy, but I like to do things to the best of my ability, and I’m not afraid to ask questions. A lot of the job is common sense: take good care of the horses and make sure they’re happy.

“A lot of things can change from day to day with the horses, and you have to be prepared for it,” he added. “I might not win a race because competition is competition, but every time I take a horse up there, they are 100 percent right and ready to run.”

Around the oval. In today’s fourth race on the turf, Hiram’s Mistress outdueled Talent and Grace in deep stretch for a neck victory under jockey Jose Ferrer. The 4-year-old Florida-bred filly’s victory was the 16th at the current meeting for owner Ridenjac Racing, breaking a tie for first place in the standings with Jagger, Inc.

Ridenjac Racing is the stable name of owner-trainer Dennis Ward, who is in third place in the track’s conditioners standings with 26 victories.

Ferrer, leading Tampa Bay Downs jockey Daniel Centeno and Samy Camacho each rode two winners today. Ferrer added the seventh race to his haul aboard Quick Coconut, a 4-year-old Florida-bred gelding owned by Manuel H. Gonzalez and trained by Braulio Lopez, Jr.

Centeno’s two-bagger gives him five victories over the last two racing days, putting more distance between himself and Edwin Gonzalez in the jockeys standings. Centeno, who is seeking a record sixth Oldsmar title, has an 89-76 advantage with 10 days left in the meeting.

Centeno won the first race on 5-year-old horse Private Safe, a 10-1 shot owned by George Santis and trained by Kenneth Westlye. He added the sixth race on I’m Really Sumthin, a 6-year-old Florida-bred mare owned by Elaine Vinson and trained by John G. Vinson.

Camacho captured the second race on Buch of Daisies, a 3-year-old Florida-bred filly owned by Carmen Tiritilli and trained by Anthony Granitz. Camacho added the ninth and final race on the turf on Thurston, a 4-year-old homebred gelding racing for Southwind Stables and trained by Jose Chavez.

Saturday’s nine-race card begins at 12:45 p.m. Tampa Bay Downs is introducing a Pick-5 wager that begins with the first race, while continuing to offer a “late” Pick-5 that begins with the fifth race on days when nine races are presented.

The minimum wager for the Pick-5 is 50 cents. To cash a ticket, bettors must correctly select the winners of the five consecutive races that comprise the wager.

Saturday’s feature event is the fifth race, a $24,500 allowance/$62,500 optional claiming race for fillies and mares 4-years-old-and-upward traveling a mile on the turf. The 8-5 morning-line favorite is Robert V. LaPenta’s 4-year-old Grey Stark, who will be making her first start since an unplaced finish in the Winter Memories Stakes at Aqueduct on Nov. 25.

Jonathan Thomas trains Grey Stark, whose 3-for-8 lifetime mark includes allowance/optional claiming victories last year at Saratoga and Belmont. Pablo Morales will be the jockey.

Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands Day (May 6) is fast approaching, and Tampa Bay Downs again will participate in a silent auction throughout the afternoon to benefit the Permanently Disabled Jockeys’ Fund (PDJF).

The Oldsmar oval will be among 24 tracks across the country taking part in the fund-raising event. Proceeds from the collaborative effort by the Thoroughbred Racing Associations, PDJF, JockeyTalk360 and the Jockeys’ Guild will provide aid for permanently disabled riders’ health care and living expenses.

Among the items of memorabilia expected to be available for bids are three framed and autographed photographs of historic moments in racing: Arrogate winning the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Classic, autographed by jockey Mike Smith; a “3 for the Ages” compilation of Triple Crown winners Secretariat, Seattle Slew and Affirmed, autographed by jockeys Ron Turcotte, Jean Cruguet and Steve Cauthen; and Secretariat racing to victory in the 1973 Kentucky Derby, signed by Turcotte.

Fans who contribute to the PDJF during the auction will be offered a racing souvenir. For details, visit on the Internet. The PDJF provides financial assistance to 60 former jockeys who have suffered catastrophic on-track injuries.

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.