OLDSMAR — Saturday wasn't a day for favorites at Tampa Bay Downs. But it was a favorite one for jockey Daniel Centeno, trainer Bob Jeffries and Suzzona at the Oldsmar meet's 85th season opener.
Centeno, Oldsmar's four-time defending champion, won three races. Jeffries, the Tampa Bay Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association president, recorded his first Downs opening-day victory. Suzzona reached a milestone in the $75,000 Lightning City, winning her first career stakes and first for Mechanicsville, Va., owner Sandy Valley Farms.
The Downs had a successful day, surpassing $4 million in all-source handle for the third consecutive opener. Total handle on the 11-race card was $4,277,142. But a crowd of 4,752 was the lowest opening-day turnout in at least seven years.
Favorites went 1-for-11 with Film Making (Race 5, $3.80) the lone wagering choice to prevail. That was one of three victories for Centeno, who won with One for Biscuit (Race 1, $16.80) and Whoedoesthat (Race 6, $8.40).
"I love Tampa and I've got good horses," said Centeno, 38, who raised his career-best win total for a year to 261.
Jeffries, 65, who first came to Oldsmar in 1988, picked up his first opening-day victory with Cover Price, ridden by Wilmer Galviz. Cover Price was making his first start for Jeffries and owner Judson Van Worp after being claimed for $6,250 on Nov. 18 at Calder in Miami Gardens. Cover Price (Race 4, $15.80) keyed a $1 superfecta that paid $14,103.40.
"I joked with the racing secretary (Allison De Luca) that I don't race on the first day," Jeffries said. "Opening day was great, and (Downs maintenance superintendent) Tom McLaughlin does an outstanding job of keeping the racing surfaces and the backside in fine shape."
Suzzona, a 6-year-old mare by multiple-Grade II winner The Name's Jimmy, overtook 28-1 shot Trippi's Sailor in the deep stretch to win the Lightning City by a half-length. Tremendamente Loca finished third and 5-2 favorite Aegean was fifth.
Ridden by Hector Ramos for Maryland trainer Benjamin Feliciano Jr., Suzzona ran the 5-furlong turf course in 56.83 seconds. It was the 16th victory in 37 starts for Suzzona, who was claimed several years ago for $10,000.
She raised her lifetime earnings to $358,280 with the $45,000 paycheck.
"The turf season is done up here (in Maryland), so we decided to send her down there and take a shot at a stakes," Feliciano said over the telephone. "She's in good form and has been real consistent for us."