Updated on 12/26/2011 3:48PM

Tampa Bay: Ronnie Allen Jr. making most of opportunity

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OLDSMAR. Fla. – Jockey Daniel Centeno’s decision to stay in south Florida and ride at Gulfstream Park this winter rather than come back to Tampa Bay Downs added a whole new dynamic to the local jockey colony.

From 2006 until midway in last year’s meeting, when he was sidelined with an injury, Centeno had a stranglehold on the top spot in the rider standings, and he had captured the title four straight years. But Ronnie Allen Jr. jumped into the void after Centeno was knocked out of action last meeting, winning 109 races and capturing the riding title here for the third time in his career.

This season, the 47-year-old Allen is off to a good start with nine victories through the first 10 racing days, but he faces stiff competiton from a riding colony that is deep with talent.

Leandro Goncalves came into this meeting fresh from winning the riding title at Hoosier Park and is leading the standings with 10 wins. Rosemary Homeister Jr., who won almost 100 races here two years back, seems reinvigorated as she returns as a new mother this meeting. Ricky Feliciano, who seems to have come into his own the past two seasons, had a good meeting at Delaware Park this summer as one of trainer Jamie Ness’s regular riders and is off to a good start with seven winners.

Daniel Coa is also doing well, then you have veterans like Mark Guidry, who has won more than 5,000 races during his career; Juan Delgado, who has won more than 140 races over the past two years; and Dean Butler, who was leading rider at Canterbury this summer for the second straight year. Add Luis Garcia and Frederic Lenclud, who won 34 and 25 races, respectively, here last season and it’s easy to see horseplayers and trainers can easily go eight or nine deep while handicapping local riders and not come up with many negatives.

Allen admitted the level of competition will be high but knows that it’s who you ride for that makes or breaks a rider and is quietly confident in the outfits he will be riding for this season.

“I’ve got some really solid stables to ride for this season,” Allen said, “and a number of these trainers are people I’ve ridden for for years. Many of these stables are ones that stay here and race right to the end of the meeting, so if it gets down to the last weeks and I’m in contention, I’m confident the mounts will be there.”