03/26/2012 11:54AM

Tampa Bay Downs: Butler, 41, enjoying his best local meet

Barbara D. Livingston
Giant Ryan will have Willie Martinez aboard when he runs in the Dubai Golden Shaheen

OLDSMAR, Fla. – Jockey Dean Butler celebrated his 41st birthday last week by continuing to build on one of his best seasons at Tampa Bay Downs.

When Butler took the nightcap with Independent George on Sunday it gave him six winners for the four racing days last week, beginning on his birthday, Wednesday. Butler ran his win total for the meeting to 22, just six wins short of his best Tampa meeting ever.

And this is the “other” meeting for Butler. He has captured the riding title the past two seasons at Canterbury Park, and while he has done well enough in past winters here, this is the first seaon where he has been on the leaderboard here.

In his 20th year of riding, Butler has won the bulk of his races here for his father-in-law, trainer Bernell Rhone, who is also in the midst of his best meeting locally.

Butler said a key to his success this meet has been having enough horses to ride..

“It all boils down to whether you’ve got business or not when you get to this stage of your career,” he said. “If you’ve still got business, if people still want to ride you, then things are good. If it gets to a point where people don’t want to ride you any more, then it’s time to start thinking about doing other things on down the road.”

Butler is from Saratoga Springs and hung around historic Saratoga Race Course as a kid, eventually going to work for Hall of Famer Jack Van Berg. He began his riding career at Suffolk Downs and later was leading rider at Philadelphia Park (now Parx) during four race meetings.

He is married to Leann Rhone, and they have two young daughters.

“She’s from an unbelievable family,” said Butler. “I got extremely lucky.

Martinez to ride in Dubai

Willie Martinez was to fly Tuesday to Dubai, where he will prepare to ride Giant Ryan in the $2 million Golden Shaheen Sprint on the Dubai World Cup undercard on Saturday.

Martinez rode Giant Ryan last season at Calder, and he also worked the gelding in preparation for last year’s Breeder’s Cup Sprint. When Giant Ryan’s regular jockey Cornelio Velasquez had another call in the Golden Shaheen, trainer Shivananda Parbhoo, contacted Martinez about riding Giant Ryan in the rich sprint.

“These are the kind of races I live for,” said Martinez. “For some reason, the bigger the race, the more confidence I have.”

◗ Daniel Centeno booted home four winners on Saturday’s program. He has been building business steadily since moving over from Gulfstream Park on March 7.