12/21/2012 5:30PM

Tampa Bay Downs: Curatolo trying to jump-start his career


OLDSMAR, Fla. – Ryan Curatolo is riding at Tampa Bay Downs for the first time this season, and the 20-year-old native of France is hoping a strong meeting will get him past the dreaded “sophomore slump” that has plagued him much of this season.

Curatolo came to the United States to visit his father in Florida during the winter of 2010 and wound up staying in the country. He started working for fellow Frenchman Patrick Biancone later that year and began riding for Biancone early in 2011 at Gulfstream Park.

Curatolo won 115 races in 2011 while racing on the New York circuit much of the year, and finished second in Eclipse Award voting for the nation’s top apprentice behind Kyle Frey, who won 153 races that year.

Curatolo lost his apprentice status in January 2012. He was was forced to return to France for 90 days over the summer to satisfy immigration regulations, and when he returned to this country three months later, many of his training clients had lined up other riders for their horses. Curatolo has only won 27 races this year but hopes he can pick up the pace at Tampa Bay Downs this winter. Through Friday, he is 2 for 9 at the meet.

“The trip back home was nice, but it was not good for my business,” Curatolo said. “I wanted to go somewhere I could get on live mounts and start winning races again. I talked to Christophe Clement, and he suggested I come to Tampa because they run a lot of races on the turf here. I’m very happy I did.

“The turf course here may be the nicest one I’ve ridden on in this country, and hopefully some of the New York trainers I’ve ridden for in the past who ship in here will give me a chance. Hopefully, this meet will start 2013 up on a positive note.”

Ward to have increased presence

Trainer Dennis Ward has won more than 880 races during a career that dates back to 1983, and he has served notice he is going to be a force to be reckoned with at this meeting. Ward, the father of trainer Wesley Ward, has claimed four horses through the first nine days of the new meeting while winning with three of his first eight starters. Ward won last Wednesday with Butterdish, a horse he claimed from Midwest Thoroughbreds.

“I raced off the farm here last year, shipping down from our place in Ocala, and everybody said you can’t ship into Tampa and win, but we won 17 races,” Ward said. “This season, we’ve got 25 stalls here, we’ve got some owners who are interested in claiming and running horses, and we are cautiously optimistic this will be a good meeting for us.