by Mike Henry

Daniel Centeno had an uneasy feeling as his mount in the 2014 Grade II Tampa Bay Derby, Ring Weekend, lengthened his lead along the backstretch to 6 lengths. If there was ever a moment for the normally unflappable jockey to become panic-stricken, this was it.

“I didn’t want to be going that fast, especially when everybody was watching. I thought (trainer) Graham (Motion) and the owners were going to kill me if he didn’t win,” Centeno recalled. “But he was doing it so comfortably, I didn’t want to fight him. When he was still running at the top of the stretch, I thought ‘Oh my goodness. We’re going to win.’ ”

A 14-1 shot that day, Ring Weekend had broken his maiden a month earlier at Gulfstream Park in his fifth career start. He would go on to become a world-class turf horse, winning five additional graded stakes, including the Grade I Frank E. Kilroe Mile in 2015 at Santa Anita.

Thanks, in some measure, to Centeno’s decision to just go along for the ride in the gelding’s lone Tampa Bay Downs start.

That was one of two victories for Centeno in the Oldsmar oval’s premier race, to be contested for the 42nd time Saturday at about 5:23 p.m. Centeno, who also won the 2009 edition on Musket Man, is the only locally-based jockey to win the race twice.

The Grade II, $400,000 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby will be broadcast live on “America’s Day at the Races” on FS2 and on TVG.

Two years ago, Samy Camacho broke a five-year losing streak for the local riding colony aboard 49-1 shot King Guillermo, and Jose Ferrer won the race last year on 15-1 shot Helium. Previous to King Guillermo, out-of-town jockeys had won seven out of eight runnings.

Saturday, Centeno – the Salt Rock Tavern Jockey of the Month – will bid to become the first jockey to win the Grade II Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby three times with Trademark, a 3-year-old gelding owned by BBN Racing, LLC and trained by Victoria Oliver. Trademark will break from the No. 2 post in the mile-and-a-sixteenth “Road to the Kentucky Derby” points race.

The five other jockeys to win the race twice comprise a virtual “Who’s Who” of saddle excellence: Pat Day (Parade Ground in 1998, Limehouse in 2004); Richard Migliore (Wheelaway in 2000, Burning Roma in 2001); Eibar Coa (Region of Merit in 2003, Big Truck in 2008); John Velazquez (Verrazano in 2013, Carpe Diem in 2015); and Jose Ortiz (Tapwrit in 2017, Tacitus in 2019).

Four other Tampa Bay Downs jockeys have mounts in the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby. Camacho will break from the No. 1 post on Grantham; Antonio Gallardo will ride Golden Glider from the No. 6 post; Hector Rafael Diaz, Jr., will be aboard the Motion-trained Belgrade from the No. 10 post; and Jesus Castanon is on Spin Wheel, who breaks from the outside No. 12 position.

Classic Causeway, who won the Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes here on Feb. 12 by 3 ¾ lengths from Shipsational, is the 8-5 morning-line favorite under jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr., who rode five winners on the Sam F. Davis card.

Post time for Saturday’s first race is 12:15 p.m. The Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby is the 11th of 12 races scheduled. Four other stakes are featured on the Festival Day 42 card: the Grade II, $225,000 Hillsborough Stakes on the turf; the Grade III, $200,000 Florida Oaks on the turf; the Grade III, $100,000 Michelob Ultra Challenger on the main track; and the $75,000 Columbia Stakes on the turf.

Centeno, a 50-year-old Venezuela product who has won six Oldsmar riding titles (tied with Mike Manganello), has ridden in the Tampa Bay Derby 10 times. He finished third last year aboard 34-1 shot Moonlite Strike.

Centeno is also named to ride 4-year-old filly Gladys in the Hillsborough and 4-year-old colt Hidden Stash in the Michelob Ultra Challenger, a race the jockey won last year on Last Judgment.

Trademark, normally a front-running sort who was 2-for-4 as a 2-year-old, experienced traffic troubles in the early going of the Sam F. Davis. “There was a lot of speed in that race, and he didn’t get a clean trip,” said Centeno, who did not persevere after Trademark fell from contention. “I’m grateful (Oliver) is giving me the opportunity to ride him back.”

BBN Racing and Oliver also own and train Hidden Stash, whom Centeno has ridden this season in a pair of Oldsmar allowance/optional claiming races on the turf, finishing second and third. Hidden Stash showed a decided liking for the Tampa Bay Downs main surface as a 3-year-old, finishing third in the Sam F. Davis and second in the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby.

“He’s had good races on the dirt and was closing late in the (Lambholm South) Tampa Bay Derby, so I think he’s got a good shot,” Centeno said.

Gladys, who won her last start by 6 ½ lengths with Centeno aboard last month in a turf allowance, is getting a chance to prove she belongs against the likes of probable co-favorites Bleecker Street and Lady Speightspeare in the Hillsborough. Gladys is owned by Dede McGehee and trained by Kelsey Danner.

“She ran beautiful last time and when I asked her turning for home, she really opened up on the field,” Centeno said. “This race is more competitive and it looks like there is more early speed, but she is rateable and doing well.”

Perhaps rounding into the best form of her career, Gladys (by Medaglia d’Oro-Lotta Kim, by Roar) will attempt to honor the memory of her sister Rachel Alexandra, the 2009 Horse of the Year who won that year’s BlackBerry Preakness against males.

Centeno said he is “grateful, thankful and blessed” to get mounts in three of the five Festival Day 42 stakes. He did it the old-fashioned way – he earned them, by keeping himself in outstanding shape and riding each claiming and allowance horse with the same skill and passion he brings to major stakes.

daniel centeno

Jockey Daniel Centeno and trainer Arnaud Delacour watch the big-screen replay of Chez Pierre's victory in Wednesday's second race on the turf

“He’s a classy professional who comes well-prepared for every race, from watching replays and studying the form,” said John Weilbacher, Centeno’s agent.

Make no mistake: Centeno gets the same pleasure entering a winner’s circle as he did when he won his six Tampa Bay Downs riding titles from 2006-2007 through 2016-2017. “I’m doing my job well right now, focusing and working hard. I like to ride for everyone. My agent does a great job getting me good opportunities, and I have to keep enjoying them while I can.”

But Centeno – the track’s all-time leader in wins, with 1,463, and stakes victories, with 54 – finds his greatest joy when he is surrounded by the women in his life. His partner, Brooke Sillaman, their 5-month-old daughter Sophia and the jockey’s 13-year-old daughter Jazmyn fill his life with contentment and love.

“It (having another child) is a blessing,” said Centeno, who earned the Salt Rock Tavern Jockey of the Month Award by winning 11 races over a period of 10 racing days. “It makes me feel younger, and I’m happy every day. Brooke and I agree on almost everything, but we always talk things through and look at the pros and cons before we make a decision. We have a really good relationship.”

Sillaman, 29, is the daughter of Thoroughbred trainer Richard Sillaman. She works as a chiropractor’s assistant, and there are nights when the child-rearing duties rest squarely on Centeno’s shoulders. “That’s something you never forget,” said Centeno, laughing. “First Danny (his 22-year-old son, an online marketer), then Jazmyn, and now Sophia. I love everything about it – the diapers, the feeding, putting her back to sleep. We have a beautiful little girl and everybody is happy.”

Centeno, who has ridden 10 graded-stakes winners, has 3,144 career victories in North America to go with the 847 he rode in Venezuela. He is fifth in the Oldsmar standings with 34 winners, after finishing third last season. His 18-percent strike rate exceeds all but Pablo Morales and Samy Camacho among local jockeys with 20 or more victories – a clear indication his skills and drive to succeed are at a high level.

Simply put, Centeno brings the same laser focus to his job as he does when dealing with Sophia’s care.

“I think (being with Sillaman) has had a great effect. He is very happy in his personal life,” Weilbacher said.

Centeno, who plans to return to Delaware Park in May and compete at various mid-Atlantic racetracks throughout the spring and summer, relishes the competitive nature of the Tampa Bay Downs colony. “You look at this season, and so many guys are right there,” he said. “It seems like everyone is winning their share of races.”

Festival Day 42 fun facts. The winner of the first Budweiser Tampa Bay Derby, Paristo in 1981, was part of a three-horse mutuel field. He paid $72 to win and later won the Grade III Illinois Derby and finished third in the Preakness. Oh, did we mention his sire was the legendary Buckpasser? … Bold Southerner (1984) set the race record for the biggest win payoff, returning $179.40 for a $2 investment. … Hillsborough Stakes winners Zagora (2012) and Tepin (2016) used those victories as springboards to Eclipse Awards as Champion Grass Mare. … The Columbia Stakes was previously named the Chris Thomas Turf Classic for the late sports-talk radio host and Thoroughbred owner who always said a so-so day at the track beat a great day anywhere else. … The 2012 Challenger Stakes winner, the Ian Wilkes-trained Fort Larned, capped his campaign with a victory in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita. … Before being switched to the turf, the Florida Oaks produced two Kentucky Oaks winners: Luv Me Luv Me Not in 1992 and Secret Status in 2000. … Trainer Todd Pletcher has won the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby a record five times, three more than any conditioner. But it was his 2010 third-place finisher, Super Saver, who gave him his first Kentucky Derby winner. … Local trainers Kathleen O’Connell and Gerald Bennett finished 1-2 in the 2011 Tampa Bay Derby with 43-1 shot Watch Me Go and 86-1 Crimson Knight, creating a $2 exacta payoff of $2,194.20. … The last time the Tampa Bay Derby was run on a non-fast track was 1986, when My Prince Charming and jockey Craig Perret won on a sloppy track – the only time that condition has prevailed for the showcase race at the track once known as Sunshine Park.  

Traffic advisories along State Road 580 take effect Saturday. Pinellas County Utilities will start repairs on a leaking 48-inch water main beneath the westbound lanes of State Road 580, just west of County Road 611 (McMullen Booth Road), beginning Saturday. The project is expected to continue through April 3.

Eastbound lanes of State Road 580 will remain open, but motorists are encouraged to avoid the area if possible. Motorists can sign up for project alerts by texting “SR580” to 888-777. For more information, visit the project website at http://pinellascounty.org/utilities/projects/sr580water.htm

Experts to weigh in Saturday morning. A round table of Thoroughbred insiders will discuss their selections for the Grade II Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby, the Grade II Hillsborough Stakes and the Grade III Florida Oaks beginning at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday.

The panel for the “Festival Day 42 Stakes Preview” show will consist of Jason Beem, the track announcer; Tampa Bay Downs handicapper-analyst Ren Carothers; the Oldsmar oval’s Spanish-language race analyst Luis Ocasio; and public handicapper-horseplayer Barry “Sniper” Spears.

The show will be available in real time on all ADW (advance-deposit wagering) sites, as well as the track’s YouTube, Twitter and Facebook Live feeds. It will also be broadcast live on the track’s closed-circuit feed. Gates open at 10 a.m.

Around the oval. Leading jockey Samy Camacho and apprentice Maddie Rowland each rode two winners today. Camacho won the first race on Billy Yank, a 4-year-old gelding owned by Candice J Renee and trained by Joe Orseno. Billy Yank was claimed from the race for $10,000 by new owner-trainer Kerri Raven.

Camacho added the fifth with Cupids Dream, a 3-year-old Florida-bred filly owned by J.P.G. 2, LLC and Winning Stables and trained by Gerald Bennett.

Rowland captured the third race aboard Ride Em, a 5-year-old Florida-bred gelding owned by Winner Circle Stables and trained by Douglas Nunn. Owner-trainer Philip Hall claimed Ride Em from the race for $8,000. Rowland also won the eighth on Imperial King, a 4-year-old gelding owned and trained by Juan Arriagada.

That was the second victory of the day as an owner-trainer for Arriagada, who won the sixth with 10-year-old gelding Native Hawk, ridden by Jose Batista.

 Tampa Bay Downs races on a Wednesday-Friday-Saturday-Sunday schedule, with the exception of Easter Sunday, April 17, when the track is closed. Otherwise, the Oldsmar oval 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.