02/09/2002 12:00AM

Cataldi cozy enough, thank you


OLDSMAR Fla. - Last Thursday brought rain, blustery winds, and a dreary atmosphere to the Tampa area, but while the snowbirds were bemoaning the unusual weather, trainer Tony Cataldi thought the conditions were just fine.

Cataldi is a veteran of the New England racing scene and remembers mornings at places like Narraganset Park and Lincoln Downs where the wind-chill factor could freeze the coffee in your cup.

So Thursday, while the tourists moaned, Cataldi went about sending out winners. In the fourth race at a route, he tightened the girth on Core Idea, who scored a mild upset at $14.60. Cataldi came right back in the fifth, an allowance race that was switched from the turf to the main track, to win with Coahoma ($6.60). In the ninth race co-feature, he sent out the tough veteran Mr. Buffum, and that 7-year-old came away with a hard-earned half-length win over an also tough Saigon Lieutenant. The win was the third straight at the meeting for Mr. Buffum, who obviously relishes the Tampa Bay Downs strip.

The three wins gave Cataldi seven for the meeting. He and others like Paul Cimini, Joe Cesarini, and Frank Seremba prove time and time again that some excellent horsemen have come out of those tough years in New England.

Jensen, Escobar score together

Trainer Greg Jensen sent out a pair of winners on the program, winning the second with Our New Slew ($6.80), and the nightcap with Peak Interest ($12.40). That gave Jensen, who is racing here for the first time, his third and fourth wins at the current stand.

Both horses were ridden by seven-pound apprentice Martin Escobar. The native of Mexico worked for many years as a top assistant for Midwest trainer Bernell Rhone. Last season, at the ripe old age of 33, Escobar realized a life long dream and qualified for a jockey's licence at Canterbury Park, riding his first race in July. He has four wins at the current stand and has looked good in his limited chances here.