02/25/2013 1:37PM

Tampa Bay: Trainer Darien Rodriguez doing it all this meet

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OLDSMAR, Fla. – While horse racing is a sport to the fans, to those who work in the industry it’s first and foremost a business.

And like other walks of life, the “little guys” in racing face an uphill battle trying to survive while competing against sharp owner syndicate groups such as Team Valor and world-wide racing and breeding operations such as Juddmonte Farms.

That’s why stories like that of Darien Rodriguez are so heartwarming. Rodriguez, 33, who was a top exercise rider for a number of stables, including those of Leigh Delacour, Miguel Feliciano, and Mike Zweisler, struck out on his own as a trainer in 2010, winning with the only horse he started that season. He won seven races in 2011 and 2012 while striking at a 15 percent and 22 percent clip, respectively. This meeting at Tampa Bay Downs, he has been blistering hot, sending out 5 winners from just 8 starters.

Rodriguez sent out his fifth winner Friday when he saddled Oughterson for a win over $5,000 claiming routers in the first race. Shortly thereafter, he explained the Rodriguez shed row is pretty much a one-man operation.

”I do just about everything right now,” Rodriguez said. “I gallop the horses, I groom them, and I usually run them in the afternoon,” referring to bringing the horses to the paddock for their races then taking them back to the barn afterward.

“It’s a lot of work,” he said, “but this way there’s not much I don’t know about any of my horses.”

Rodriguez, who gives Miguel Feliciano and former rider Benny Feliciano a lot of credit for teaching him the finer points of horsemanship, said his plans for the future are simple.

“Just try to make good moves to get productive horses and try and improve the stable with the means I have,” he said.