For jockeys, end of Delaware meet means time to travel

The conclusion of the Delaware Park meet November 5 turned, as it always does, the track’s jockey colony into vagabonds. Some jocks will remain in the Mid-Atlantic, plying their trade at tracks like Laurel Park and Parx Racing, while others will roam farther afield.

Our Mike Valiante caught up with a few Delaware mainstays to see what their plans were for the winter months.

Jockey John Hiraldo had his second consecutive solid season at Delaware, finishing in the top 10 of the jockey standings. Hiraldo, who was a runner-up in the Eclipse Award as champion apprentice jockey last year, is once again going to compete at Oaklawn as he did last winter.

“It is difficult to make a decision as to where to set up your base,” Hiraldo said, adding that last winter at Oaklawn, “I had some success and made connections.”

While acknowledging the challenges of competing at one of the major winter circuits he said, “It wasn’t as difficult as most people think … and I just feel like I can go ahead and try it again. I’ve learned that it is all about working hard, staying focused and making the best out of the opportunities you receive. My goal is to do well … and demonstrate to the people that I can win races there.”

Veteran jockey Daniel Centeno, who won 38 races at Delaware Park, will once again return home to Tampa, where he originally made a name for himself early in his career.

“It’s definitely hard to move from Tampa and be at Delaware in the summer,” he said, because “I am away from my family for 5-6 months. My family, my motivation and passion is the reason I do it.”

Centeno has ridden at Tampa since 2004.

“At Tampa, people know me and hopefully we have another good meet.”

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Centeno has been a model of consistency in the game, and at Delaware he once again was one of the top jocks with a strike rate exceeding 18%.

Centeno will be joined at Tampa Bay Downs by Angel Suarez.

For the past two winter seasons Suarez has competed at New Orleans’ Fair Ground Race Course. Two years ago there, he suffered a serious injury that limited his mounts. Additionally, he said there are “not many connections from Delaware” in New Orleans, which has also harmed his business.

For that reason, he will be returning to Tampa where he has ridden in the past.

“Tampa has many of the same people from Monmouth and Delaware, so it will be good to keep business,” he stated. “I want people to get comfortable.”

Suarez is planning to rotate between Tampa and Delaware in future “to make a good name in these two areas.”

Suarez just completed an excellent meet at Delaware, finishing with 47 wins for the meet, the fourth most of any rider.

Jockey Jaime Rodriguez once again was dominant at Delaware this year, winning the jockey title and finishing with 134 victories (75 more than his closest competitor).

Jaime’s agent, John Weilbacher said his client “… will be riding full time at Laurel. We had success there last winter and spring. The purses and horsemen are great, so we’re just hoping to build off our great summer and keep it rolling in Maryland, but it will be tough with that jockey colony. Jaime has proven to be one of the top jocks around, so expectations will be high.”

Although these four jockeys are at different stages of their career, they’re all capable riders hoping to make an impact in their homes, or their homes away from home.