By Monique Welch
The 2016-2017 horse racing season at Tampa Bay Downs has been underway for a little over three weeks now, and there have been several new additions to the jockey colony.
But leading jockey Daniel Centeno embraces the new competition.
New jockeys such as Angel Cruz, Albino Jimenez and Edwin Gonzalez are doing well and putting their names on the map, but not enough to bother the star returner Centeno.
The five-time Tampa Bay Downs riding champion enjoys the competition the new riders bring, claiming, “the business is going to be a little more hard, but we have better trainers this year, more colonies.”
(Note: Photo on home page is Centeno in the winner’s circle with fans after a recent race.)
Centeno is proving to be ready for the competition. As of Saturday, the latest race day, he has ridden 14 winners through eleven days of the 91-day meet. Veterans Ronald Allen Jr. and Pablo Morales each have eight wins and are tied for second place.
No Letting Up
The 45-year-old veteran from Venezuela has been riding for twenty-seven years and specifically at Tampa for thirteen years starting in 2004, and is showing no signs of letting up anytime soon.
Through this past Saturday, Centeno’s mounts have earned $3.95 million in 2016. That is 52nd best among 1,573 jockeys in North America, according to Equibase.
He has won 167 of 813 races this year. That is 21 percent, which is tied for eighth best winning percentage among jockeys in the top 60 in earnings.
The vast majority of Centeno’s wins this year have been at Tampa Bay and at Delaware Park, where he is a summer regular.
Centeno has 140 second place finishes and 129 third place finishes. His in-the-money 54 percentage is sixth best among jockeys in the 2016 top 60 in earnings.
He has 2.410 career wins and total earnings of $46,619,118,
Centeno led Tampa Bay jockeys in wins each season from 2006-2007 through 2009-2010 and again in 2011-2012. In each of the last three Tampa Bay meets, he finished second in wins to Antonio Gallardo. In 2015-2016, the margin was 135-98.
This winter, Gallardo is riding at Gulfstream Park. That has left Centeno with an opening to return to the top of the Tampa Bay standings.
‘Working Every Day”
Year after year, Centeno comes back strong and displays his skills and expertise. One might wonder how he manages to stay so fresh and relevant year after year in this industry.
Centeno says, “the main thing is constant working every day , I do not have too much time off, and keep working.”
He added: “That helps keep my body fit, keeps me healthy so I can try to win more races so people keep watching.”
Centeno has ridden for almost every prominent trainer at Tampa Bay Downs.
For several years Centeno teamed frequently with Jamie Ness, who led or tied Tampa Bay trainers in wins for the nine meets from 2006-2007 to 2014-2015.
This meet, he has increased his number of rides for Gerald Bennett. After leading Tampa Bay trainers in wins in 2015-2016, Bennett is in first place this season.
Centeno says he has a good working relationship with Bennett.
“He is the top trainer and he has more horses now than Jamie,” Centeno said. “He is doing so great, so you have to take advantage of the moment.”
Arnaud Delacour is another trainer with whom Centeno has enjoyed success—at Tampa Bay Downs, and late last month on a big national stage.
On Nov. 26, Centeno rode two horses trained by Delacour to second place finishes in prestigious stakes races at Aqueduct in Ozone Park, N.Y.
They teamed with the 4-year-old Divining Rod in the Cigar Mile Handicap (Grade 1) and with the 2-year-old No Dozing in the 1 1/8 mile Remsen (Grade 2).
No Dozing is among horses that will be racing on the trail to possible berths in the 2017 Kentucky Derby (Grade 1), which will be run May 6 at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky. Two possible prep races for No Dozing will be at Tampa Bay Downs—the $250,000 Sam F. Davis (Grade 3) on Feb. 11 and the $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby (Grade 2) on March 11. Both races are 1 1/16 miles.
In the Cigar, Divining Rod and Connect staged a thrilling neck-and-neck battle over the final furlong. Connect, ridden by three-time Eclipse Award winner Javier Castellano, won by a head.
“It was exciting for me,” Centeno said. “It was actually one of the biggest opportunities I’ve had, even though I didn’t win the race, everyone was really happy I was really excited, I was like wow, oh my goodness.”
Student of the Game
It seems Centeno’s key to success is constantly being a student of the game and doing his homework.
One cannot deny his work ethic and dedication to his profession.
“I come here in the mornings sometimes with my horses,” he said. “Then I go home, I do my homework, watch the replays of my horses in the afternoon, the horses in the race I am supposed to beat.”
Centeno added: “Sometimes I have my plan, sometimes I have different plans, and you know you never know what can happen when the gates open so you have to have a backup plan, a plan B and C!”
When the Venezuelan native is not competing, he is father to his son Daniel, 17 and daughter Jazmyn who was front and center on a recent Saturday to see her dad in the winner’s circle.
Centeno loves to have his daughter at the track to support him.
“She’s happy but she doesn’t really like it because I got hurt a few times and that was pretty scary for her,” he said. “But she’s happy to come and see me working and being in the winner’s circle. Not all the time, sometimes she is a little nervous or scared because of what happened before, but it’s part of the business.”
Centeno certainly knows his business, and he is setting the tone and proving early on that this season will be another good one for him.