OLDSMAR — On a scale of 10, Daniel Centeno gives himself a "7 or 8."
Considering the 41-year-old jockey will set a modern-day record at Tampa Bay Downs when the meet concludes May 5, some fans may believe he is being too hard on himself.
Centeno has virtually clinched his fifth riding title at the Downs. His numbers won't be as flashy as when he won four consecutive titles from 2007-10, but this crown will carry extra weight. In records documented since 1980 at the 87-year-old track, Centeno will be the only five-time champion. Ronnie Allen Jr. — sidelined with injuries sustained in an April 10 spill — and William Henry each recorded four titles in that span.
Centeno's place in the history book was secured this week when his closest challenger, Fernando De La Cruz, left town. De La Cruz rides Good Lord today in the Grade III $200,000 Texas Mile at Lone Star Park in Grand Prairie. Centeno leads in wins 83-75.
"It's exciting to be the leading rider, and it's one of the goals that you really want," Centeno said. "I got lucky, and I didn't have any injuries. Actually, I didn't think about (the title) at the beginning. There are new jockeys every year. They are good riders, they know what they're doing, and you're more comfortable in the races with them. Better riders mean the races are better, which is good for us (jockeys) and good for the gambling."
Centeno, who leads in purse earnings with more than $1.2 million, won three stakes races: the $50,000 Manatee (Spectacular Sky), the $75,000 Sophomore Turf (Boy of Summer) and the $75,000 Turf Classic (Hobbs), the latter pair on Florida Cup Day. That raised Centeno's stakes victories at Oldsmar to 28 since arriving in 2004-05. During his reign of four consecutive crowns, Centeno averaged 135 wins and more than $1.8 million in purses annually. He set track records in 2007-08 with 144 wins and more than $2.1 million in purse earnings.
This will be Centeno's sixth title overall. The other came in 2010 at Presque Isle Downs in Erie, Pa. His agent is Mike Moran.
"I've been riding for 23 years and I love it," said Centeno, whose father, Enrique, trained boxers and worked with horses. "I have no idea what I'd do (without horses)."
The Caracas, Venezuela, native has been one of the go-to riders for trainer Jamie Ness, who has wrapped up a seventh consecutive title at the Downs. This summer, the duo will team up at Delaware Park in Stanton, where Centeno finished third last year in the standings.
"Jamie knows where to run the horses, and he's got that big owner (Midwest Thoroughbreds), which helps a lot," Centeno said.
The Westchase resident plans to return to the Downs next season.
"I've got my house here, not even five minutes from the track," Centeno said. "My life is here, and I love Tampa."