by Mike Henry
Daniel Centeno’s first visit to the Tampa Bay Downs winner’s circle came on Dec. 18, 2004 – his 33rd birthday – after he rode 39-1 shot Marked Native to victory for owner-trainer Edward T. Clark.
“Nobody knew who I was then,” Centeno said, laughing at the memory.
Painstakingly (as nothing comes easy in Thoroughbred racing, appearances notwithstanding), Centeno has built a reputation as a leading jockey up and down the East Coast, winning eight graded stakes races and capturing a record six Oldsmar riding titles. He is No. 1 all-time at Tampa Bay in total victories, with 1,377, and stakes triumphs, with 50.
Today, in the most dramatic fashion imaginable, Centeno joined an exclusive fraternity, earning career victory No. 3,000 in North America in the 10th race, the Fillies and Mares Division of the Tampa Turf Test. The product of Caracas, Venezuela rode 7-year-old mare Lucy’s Town to a nose victory from Postino’s Idol in the 1-mile starter handicap for owner K12, LLC and trainer Jose H. Delgado. Catsoutofthebag finished third in the 10-horse field.
An emotional Daniel Centeno is joined in the winner’s circle by his daughter Jazmyn, center, and his girlfriend, Brooke Sillaman
Centeno is one of 182 jockeys to ride 3,000 winners in the Northern Hemisphere. He won 847 races in Venezuela.
His 12-year-old daughter, Jazmyn, and his girlfriend, Brooke Sillaman, were in attendance.
“I don’t have words right now. I’m feeling so great, grateful and blessed to make 3,000,” he said. “Especially here at Tampa. This place made Daniel Centeno.”
Lucy’s Town, now 9-for-24 lifetime, usually races from far back, and today was no exception. Centeno encountered plenty of traffic on the turn for home, and had to split horses late to take the lead before holding on for the victory.
“I was all over the place. I had to find room because I had plenty of horse,” Centeno said. “She responded right away when we found an opening and when she crossed the wire, I knew she got it.”
Centeno had taken time earlier in the week to reflect on the approaching milestone.
“It would mean a lot to me to be in that group, winning 3,000 races in the United States,” Centeno said. “I started riding (in 2003) at Thistledown and spent some time after that at Mountaineer and Finger Lakes, and over time I started riding for better trainers and getting on a better quality of horse. My goals were to keep learning every day and to become a better jockey.
“I’m thankful to all the people who have supported me – my family and friends, the fans and all the people on the backside who make everything possible. I took a long road to get here, but it’s not just me. All the trainers, owners, grooms and exercise riders deserve a lot of credit.”
Centeno has proven over the years he can perform on a larger stage. His graded-stakes triumphs include the then-Grade III Tampa Bay Derby in 2009 on Musket Man and the Grade II Tampa Bay Derby in 2014 on Ring Weekend.
Centeno won the 2020 Grade III Lambholm South Endeavour Stakes on Jehozacat for trainer Arnaud Delacour and captured the Grade II George E. Mitchell Black-Eyed Susan Stakes on Oct. 3 at Pimlico on Miss Marissa for James Ryerson. “It was very emotional winning that race on Preakness Day,” said Centeno, who rode Always Mining to an unplaced finish in the 2019 Preakness after winning five consecutive stakes on the gelding. “To win a Grade II on a big day like that was very exciting.”
Centeno has two children – Daniel, 21, and Jazmyn – and his girlfriend Brooke, whose father Richard Sillaman is a trainer in the mid-Atlantic region. The jockey’s mother, Ligia, lives with him at his Tampa home. Centeno’s father, Enrique Centeno, is a former boxer and current fight trainer who will send Roger Gutierrez into the ring tonight in Dallas against champion Rene Alvarado for the WBA super featherweight title.
At a racetrack that has witnessed its share of dominant jockeys – including Mike Manganello, Ronnie Allen, Jr., Ricardo Lopez, Willie Martinez, William Henry and Antonio Gallardo – the crown fit Centeno longest, and best. In addition to having the most victories and most stakes victories here, Centeno’s six season titles are the same number as Manganello, best known for riding Dust Commander to a 1970 Kentucky Derby victory.
From 2006-2010, Centeno strung together four consecutive Oldsmar riding championships while averaging 1.48 winners per performance. He set the track’s single-season record for victories with 144 in 2007-2008 (Gallardo bettered it in 2014-2015 with 147).
Along the way, Centeno has displayed a level of professionalism and attention to detail that is difficult to match. On many occasions, he will pause along the rail after weighing in to watch a race replay on the jumbo video board in the infield, reviewing not only his own ride but other jockeys’ stratagems and filing the information away for upcoming races.
“He does his homework, watches replays and reads the form,” said John Weilbacher, his agent at Tampa Bay Downs. “Horsemen respect his opinion, and he’ll tell a trainer if he thinks a horse would run better with or without blinkers, or going longer or shorter. I never have to worry about his preparation.”
Centeno’s focus moving forward is to find a few horses for the track’s graded races in February and March. Beyond that, “the No. 1 thing right now is to stay healthy, keep working hard and win as many races as I can,” he said.