02/21/2009 12:00AM

Home field gives Montalvo an edge

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OLDSMAR, Fla. - Home-field advantage for horses that train and race over this somewhat tiring surface often plays a critical role in the crucial stages of races here, and having a jockey who knows the surface and how to ride over it can also be a big advantage.

That's why Carlos Montalvo can give a horse an edge at Tampa. In his fourth season of competition here, Montalvo has learned how to read the day-to-day changes in the surface and what portions of the strip are preferred from one program to the next. And he has picked up a few tips from his agent, Herson Sanchez, a man who played the main track here like a violin when he was riding.

Last week in the Suncoast Stakes, Montalvo placed his mount, Rock Candy, perfectly, made his move at just the right time, and came away with a hard-earned win, his fifth stakes victory here over the past three-plus seasons.

"This track does change, and there are times when the inside is good and other times where you want to be in the middle of the strip," Montalvo said. "You just have to learn how to read the surface. It took me a bit of time to learn the ins and outs of the place, but now I'm very comfortable here."

Third in the rider standings two years back with 83 victories and fifth last season with 51 tallies, Montalvo currently ranks fourth in the standings with 34 winners. His victory aboard Rock Candy was his third straight with the filly, who is trained by Mike Zwiesler.

"Mr. Zwiesler has given me the opportunity to ride some very nice horses, like Rock Candy and Summer Cruise, who we won two stakes with here last season," Montalvo said.

Griffith barn has two youngsters to watch

The Greg Griffith barn is quietly having another good meeting at the halfway mark, as he was third in the standings behind Jamie Ness and Kirk Ziadie with 18 winners through Friday.

Griffith has a mixture of runners from claimers up to allowance types, and he has a pair of youngsters who could well bring the outfit recognition in the coming months.

Esperanza d'Oro, a Medaglia d'Oro filly, turned in one of the more impressive efforts of the meeting by a first-time starter here Feb. 7, overcoming a slow start to come from next-to-last and win going away in a six-furlong maiden special weight race.

A Florida-bred, she is eligible for the Stonehedge Farm Sophomore Fillies Stakes on Florida Cup Day, April 4.

On Feb. 8, Griffith sent out a Touch Gold colt named Powerchord to win a maiden special weight going a mile and 40 yards, and that Kinsman Farm homebred may also have a bright future.

Handle steady, attendance down a bit

The figures are in for average attendance and handle through the halfway point of the meet, and while in-state handle is down, the overall total handle shows a fractional increase, according to numbers released by track general manager Pete Berube.

Through 47 racing dates the average daily all-sources handle is $3,900,300, compared to $3,870,513 at this time last season. Average attendance is 3,071, down 5.5 percent from last season.

* After several days of carryovers, the pick six was hit Wednesday as 11 ticket holders split $466,864, with each ticket worth $37,862. More than $400,000 was bet into the pool on the final day, mostly from simulcast sources.