After riding two horses at Laurel Park in Maryland on Nov. 9, jockey Daniel Centeno took a two-week vacation to spend time with his daughter, 11-year-old Jazmyn, on a Disney cruise.
“We spent three days in the Bahamas and at a private Disney island and had a lot of fun,” Centeno said.
A short break from his job responsibilities proved no obstacle in getting off to a fast start in the 2019-2020 Tampa Bay Downs meeting. Centeno rode four winners from seven mounts over the first three days to earn the Señor Tequila Mexican Grill Jockey of the Month Award, edging out Oldsmar newcomer Angel Suarez (4-for-13).
Both jockeys are represented by agent John Weilbacher. Centeno added two victories today.
Watching Centeno win races at Tampa Bay Downs is nothing new. The 47-year-old from Venezuela has won six Oldsmar riding crowns, tied for most all-time with Mike Manganello. Centeno won four in a row from 2006-2010, a period during which he averaged 1.48 winners per racing day.
Yet while he burns with the same desire to win that he’s possessed since moving to the United States full-time in 2003, Centeno has struck a greater balance between the demands of being a jockey and his interactions outside the arena. He acknowledges that he is more relaxed than in past seasons, and it shows around the barns and whenever a fan asks for an autograph or a quick word on his walk back after a race.
Being a jockey doesn’t leave much time to search for personal understanding and acceptance, but Centeno was thrust into that position in January when his long-time partner and Jazmyn’s mother, Ashley George, died at 34 after a long struggle with Cystic fibrosis and its effects.
“We were together for 10 years, and she supported me in everything I did. She was always there to give me the right advice,” Centeno said. “She will always be an inspiration for me and Jazmyn with how hard she fought.
“It’s still hard, especially for my daughter, but what happened is nobody’s fault. I have to keep going and be strong for my daughter, and I’m really proud and blessed by how strong she has been with everything she went through.”
Jazmyn, a 6th-grader, enjoys singing and playing the guitar and has performed in youth and school concerts. “She wants to play volleyball, too; she wants to do so much stuff,” Centeno said, smiling. “She is very smart and a really, really good girl.”
Centeno also has a son, 20-year-old Daniel, Jr., who played football for Pasadena City (Calif.) College.
Since he started riding full-time in North America in 2003, Centeno has won almost 2,900 races, to go with the 847 he won in his native Venezuela. He has won the Grade II Tampa Bay Derby twice, on Ring Weekend in 2014 and Musket Man in 2009 (then a Grade III race), and four other graded stakes.
Centeno enjoyed his first Triple Crown experience this year with Alwaysmining, a horse he rode to five consecutive stakes victories to earn the ride on the 3-year-old gelding in the Preakness in Baltimore. They loomed as challengers on the far turn before Alwaysmining tired, finishing 11th.
“I’ve been there (Pimlico) a few times on Preakness Day, but never had a chance to ride in (the Preakness). It was an amazing experience, just like a dream come true,” he said.
Weilbacher, who also worked as Centeno’s agent here two seasons ago, sees him as a consummate veteran with an edge against most of his rivals in experience and the ability to map out a plan for a race and carry it through to fruition.
“He knows how to put his horses in a position so they have a chance to win every race,” said Weilbacher. “I’ve told (Suarez, who is 26) to watch how Danny puts them right where they belong to give himself the best chance to win.
“Danny rode a horse for Ian Hemingway (4-year-old gelding Whistle Me Home, in Saturday’s third race) that when you looked at the form, you wouldn’t think it had a shot to show much early speed,” Weilbacher said. “But the track was playing fast that day and he had him up close the whole way, and they just got up in the last stride.
“If they had been farther back early, they probably wouldn’t have gotten anything, but Danny has a great sense of putting a horse in a race.”
Centeno shows no signs of slowing, which should allow him to remain at or near the top of this year’s talent-laden colony. “I just want to do my job well every day and win as many races as I can, because there are new faces here and the competition in the jockey colony is much stronger,” he said.
But these days, things besides winning races occupy much of Centeno’s attention. His eagerness to share his enjoyment of watching his daughter grow up is uplifting for their many friends on the racetrack.
Centeno’s first victory today came in the fourth race aboard General Paddy, a 4-year-old gelding owned by John Rigattieri and Charles Fisher and trained by Rigattieri. The rider added the seventh on the turf on 4-year-old filly Madame Milan, a half-sister to 2006 Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro. Arnaud Delacour trains Madame Milan for owner Lael Stables