OLDSMAR — When thunderstorms engulfed Tampa Bay Downs on Sunday, canceling the final three races, rain-soaked fans splashed through puddles as they raced toward their vehicles.
Watching from the paddock was jockey Daniel Centeno, who remained dry under the structure's roof. Nothing ever seems to rain on his parade at the Oldsmar track.
Centeno, a 36-year-old native of Caracas, Venezuela, is on the cusp of breaking his second record of the meet. A week after establishing a purse mark on what he called "the best day of my life," Centeno can eclipse the win record he owns this afternoon.
With 124 victories in 466 starts, he is two shy of surpassing the record he set last year. He has nine mounts on the 11-race card. Centeno appears a virtual lock to capture consecutive riding championships with a 62-win lead over Rosemary Homeister Jr. Thirteen days remain in the Downs' 82nd season.
"Yes, I'm surprised," he said of his big lead. "I knew it was going to be tough. There were more riders and better riders this year like (Jose) Velez (Jr.), Willie Martinez and Rosemary. … I've had a great year."
The pinnacle came April 5, when the 18-year rider won three $85,000 stakes and placed second in three other stakes on Florida Cup Day. His day featured four victories and $221,348 in purse earnings, pushing his money total beyond the mark of $1,667,752 he set in 2006-07. He generated a stakes record as Repenting won the 7-furlong Sophomore on the main track in 1 minute, 22.79 seconds for trainer Jamie Ness and owner Balkrisna Sukharan.
"Oh, my goodness," Centeno said, describing the day. "Wow!"
Centeno leads the meet with six stakes wins and purse earnings of $1,860,772. He ranks third nationally with 107 victories.
"He's a speed-oriented rider, very good on the front end," Ness said. "He works my horses the way I want them done, and that translates to better performances in the afternoon. He's a class act all the way."
Centeno started the meet with a new agent and renewed confidence. Dan Mellul took over Centeno's bookings after they hooked up last summer, when Centeno rode at Monmouth Park in Oceanport, N.J. Herson Sanchez, Centeno's agent last season, now works with Huber Villa-Gomez and Velez, the Downs' third leading rider.
The confidence came as a result of an injury, Centeno said. He was involved in a turf spill in August at Monmouth Park and was sidelined three months with a broken nose and injured liver.
"I got more confidence in myself after the fall," he said. "I learned a lot after that. I'm a better rider on the grass now."
Centeno plans to ride at the Downs until the meet concludes May 4. He will proceed to Monmouth Park and Meadowlands in East Rutherford, N.J., before returning to the Downs for the 2008-09 meet.
MORE HORSES: Tampa Bay Derby winner Big Truck faces Pyro and 10 other rivals today (5:18 p.m.) in the Grade I $750,000 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland Race Track in Lexington, Ky. … Fort Prado, winner of the 2006 Tampa Bay Breeders' Cup, attempts to surpass $1-million in career earnings Sunday (4:40 p.m.) in the Grade III $125,000 Shakertown Stakes at Keeneland.
GREYHOUNDS: McAllister Kennels' Flyin Bridgeport supplied a milestone performance in his victory over Castle Princess in the $100,000 Distance Classic on April 5 at Derby Lane.
Flyin Bridgeport, winner of the 2007 Flashy Sir Award (top distance dog) and All-America member, gave kennel operator Malcolm McAllister his 10th stakes victory at the St. Petersburg track. Trained by Barbara McAllister, Malcolm's wife, Flyin Bridgeport became the third greyhound in the event's 49-year history to win consecutive Distance Classics, joining Keefer (1986-87) and Rinaker (1963-64). He is owned by Vince Berland.
"It's been an awesome year for our kennel, the best one in my 28 years in the business," Malcolm said.
McAllister has won six of the eight stakes this meet.