OLDSMAR – During the first month of the 2012-13 season, jockey Daniel Centeno rode winners for such top trainers as Nick Zito, H. Graham Motion, Thomas Proctor, Jamie Ness, Gerald Bennett, Derek Ryan and Antonio Sano.
More than any jockey at Tampa Bay Downs, Centeno enters the starting gate believing he is on the best horse. But his preparation never wavers – a key factor in his ongoing success.
With a meet-best 20 victories through Jan. 2, including eight since Dec. 26, Centeno is an obvious choice as the Hilton Garden Inn/Hampton Inn & Suites Jockey of the Month for December.
Just don’t expect him to rest on his laurels.
“When the gates open you don’t know what’s going to happen, and you have to be ready for anything,” said the 41-year-old Tampa resident, a native of Venezuela. “That’s why I don’t pay attention to whether I’m on the favorite or what the odds are.
“I read the (Daily Racing) Form to see if it looks like I’ve got the best horse in the race and try to make my plan. The trainers give you instructions, but I need to make a backup plan in case something happens I’m not expecting,” said Centeno, who has ridden more than 2,500 winners between his years in Venezuela and stateside.
Centeno already has served notice of his intention to claim an unprecedented fifth Oldsmar title – not in so many words, but through his accomplishments on-track. He had earlier this month sprinted clear of Angel Serpa by five wins. Centeno holds the single-season Tampa Bay Downs mark with 144 winners, set during the 2007-08 campaign.
“I try to ride my horses the best I can, win the most races I can and if we win the title, we win the title,” Centeno said. “Right now, we don’t really think about it.”
Indeed, Centeno offers proof positive how quickly things can change at the racetrack. Two years ago, he dislocated his pelvis and separated his left shoulder in a midseason spill, derailing his hopes of a fifth straight Tampa Bay Downs title. His determination to bounce back strong has again made him the jockey to beat.
“To me, the main thing is staying healthy and working every day to keep my body fit,” said Centeno, who plays softball and volleyball in addition to working horses in the morning and riding races. “I really don’t think age matters. My body takes a little longer to get fit, but I feel like I’m getting better and stronger every year.”
The track is open every day for simulcast wagering, no-limits poker in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.