05/03/2013 1:11PM

Tampa Bay: Performances by Verrazano, Java's War, Old Tune among meet's highlights


OLDSMAR, Fla. – Sunday marks the final live racing day of the 2012-13 racing season at Tampa Bay Downs and taking some time to look back at the meeting that began on Dec. 1, there are a number of noteworthy moments and accomplishments that deserve mention.

◗ Tampa Derby again pivotal prep: The highlight of the meeting was the Grade 2, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby, a race that gave the fans a chance to see not one but two top-flight Kentucky Derby contenders in Verrazano and Java’s War.

Many of the top trainers in the business consider that racing their 3-year-olds in the Tampa Bay Derby serves as an important building block en route to Louisville.

When Verrazano came to Tampa Bay, everyone knew he was a horse of exceptional speed and ability. By the time he left, we had also discovered he was a highly intelligent animal and a horse who didn’t get flustered when the unexpected popped up during the running of a race.

As brilliant as Verrazano was in the Tampa Bay Derby, the equine freight train Java’s War was impressive in his own right, rumbling through the stretch to finish second. Not many horses spot their fields the lengths that Java’s War does and still win. He’s a highly entertaining sort and so is his trainer, Ken McPeek.

◗ Old Tune tops on turf: Brazilian-bred Old Tune simply ran her competition into the ground in both the Endeavour and Hillsborough stakes and even though she didn’t seem to like the Keeneland turf course when unplaced in the Grade 1 Jenny Wiley Stakes, we have a feeling she will wind up having a productive summer.

◗ Centeno back on top: Daniel Centeno, who started the 2011-12 Tampa meeting at Gulfstream, was on the scene from Day One this season and returned to the top spot in the jockey standings, winning his fifth riding title. Fernando De La Cruz made a big impression this season, winning 75 races before leaving for Indiana Downs as he took his game to a whole new level from years past. Ronnie Allen, who was riding in the best form of his life when he went down in a spill on April 10, won 57 races to rank third, one ahead of Angel Serpa, who led the standings early in the meeting. Daniel Coa, who has been the hottest rider on the grounds the past three weeks, had won 51 races through April 28.

◗ Ness does it again: To no one’s surprise, Jamie Ness topped the trainer standings again and now has won or shared the title for seven straight years. Jorge Navarro shared the top winning percentage among the leaders at 36 percent while second and Gerald Bennett and Kathleen O’Connell, two blue-collar types, ranked third and fourth as both finished in the top five again.

Two young names to watch for are Jason DaCosta, who won 19 races and also won at 36 percent clip, and Darian Rodriguez, who won 5 races from just 12 starters for a 41 percent clip. Rodriguez is a hard-working young horseman who got maximum return from his stock while doing much of the work himself. Watch for his name in the future.