By Don Jensen
OLDSMAR — Jockey Daniel Centeno makes a living with his feet in the irons. Nerves of steel put him back in the saddle.
Two weeks from an unprecedented fourth consecutive riding championship at Tampa Bay Downs, Centeno has shown that moxie and good fortune are as vital as quality horses. Three times this meet, Centeno left the track on a stretcher — kicked by a horse in the paddock and twice involved in spills. He sustained only bruises in each incident, returning quickly with gritty resolve.
"Thank God I'm back and everything is fine," said Centeno, who was hospitalized once in January and missed several days of racing in March. "I got lucky, especially the last time (turf spill March 25). I've had a good meet. My agent (Dan Mellul) did a good job, and we picked the right horses."
Centeno, 38, enters today with a 115-94 win lead over Rosemary Homeister Jr., all but ensuring he will be the first Downs rider to win four straight titles in recent history (track records date to 1980). He has surpassed $20 million in career earnings this season.
"That's a lot of money," he said, smiling. "Wooh!"
The career of the Caracas, Venezuela, native has blossomed since he arrived at the Downs for the 2004-05 campaign. Centeno is the only rider to win at least 100 races in four consecutive Oldsmar meets, topped by a record 144 victories in 2007-08. He has increased his national win total every year since 2005: from 150 to a career-best 236 in 2009, 14th best in the country. Centeno's 102 victories in 2010 rank third nationally. His lifetime numbers are 1,216 wins, 1,108 seconds, 996 thirds and $20,138,491 in purse earnings from 7,301 starts.
Centeno has won 22 stakes at the Downs, four this season. Uptowncharlybrown, who won the Pasco on Jan. 16 under Centeno, makes his first start after the death of trainer Alan Seewald today in the Grade II $300,000 Coolmore Lexington (Race 9, 5:15 p.m.) at Keeneland in Lexington, Ky. Garrett Gomez has the mount. Mr. Seewald, 62, died Monday of an apparent heart attack at his New Jersey home. A former Centeno stakes winner, Dr. Zic (2008 Sandpiper Stakes), gave Downs trainer Joan Scott her first Grade I win April 8, taking the $300,000 Vinery Madison at Keeneland with Kent Desormeaux up.
Centeno will ride at Presque Isle Downs in Erie, Pa., after the Downs meet ends May 2. In recent years, he went to Monmouth Park. The Oceanport, N.J., track is racing only three days a week this summer, and Centeno prefers a busier schedule.
Centeno bought a house recently in Tampa and plans to return next season to Oldsmar.
GREYHOUNDS: Tmc's Remedy and Hallo Gold Acre, both with Derby Lane's Filipelli & O'Donnell Kennel, will be honored Thursday as 2009 All-America members at the National Greyhound Association spring meet in Abilene, Kan.