03/25/2006 1:00AM

Centeno taking success 'day to day'


OLDSMAR Fla. - Watching horses develop and mature into stars is one of the joys of racing.

Another is the chance to watch young riders progress from unsure, inexperienced apprentices to polished, successful journeymen.

One rider who has blossomed and matured in recent years is Daniel Centeno. A native of Venezuela, Centeno, 34, came to the United States at the urging of friends who encouraged him to ride at Thistledown, where he started in 2003. While he enjoyed a fair measure of success there and at Mountaineer Park, his career took a turn for the better when he teamed up with former rider Herson Sanchez as his agent and came to Tampa Bay Downs.

Sanchez, who rode at Tampa Bay for many years, had strong local ties, and as Centeno began to ride more and more live horses, his talent became evident. He finished the 2004-05 season here with 32 wins to rank in the top 10, then went to Finger Lakes, where he ranked third in the standing with 113 winners. He finished 2005 with 150 victories, a solid year in anyone's book.

He has continued to improve this season. Centeno has learned to save ground and stay covered up in turf races. He is timing his moves better and has developed into one of the strongest stretch finishers on the grounds. With six weeks remaining in the season, he has already won 40 races to rank third in the standings, seven behind second-place T.D. Houghton. Centeno will attempt to take his skills to another level when he tries a tough riding colony at Delaware Park this season that includes Ramon Dominguez, Jeremy Rose, Clinton Potts, and others.

Centeno says that he still learns new things all of the time.

"It's a day-to-day thing really," he said before going out to ride recently, "There's not a day that goes by that you don't pick up a little something here or there. Every race is different, and every horse is different, so you never know what will come up during a race, you just have to be ready to adjust to the situation.

"I'm looking forward to riding at Delaware," he added. "Competing at that level with riders who are nationally ranked will be another learning experience."

Tampa runners dominate at Ocala

Tampa Bay Downs's improving racing program was on display last Monday when horses who had raced at Tampa in their last starts won five of the six stakes races on the Ocala Breeders' Sale Company's Champions Day.

Jockey Jose Lezcano, Tampa Bay's leading rider, won three of the six races. Trainer Kirk Ziadie, who leads the trainer standings locally, won two events, and Bruce Alexander won another.