Tampa Trainer Darien Rodriguez’s Thirteen-Horse Operation Allows Him To Focus On The Details

With only 13 horses in his stable, Darien Rodriguez might go a week without making a start. But sharp bettors have learned to peruse the entries closely to avoid letting any of Rodriguez’s horses slip away.

Since Jan. 27, the 39-year-old conditioner has won six times from 14 starters, with five seconds and two thirds. That run of success makes him the Rumba Island Bar & Grill Trainer of the Month.

Rodriguez is tied for eighth in the Tampa Bay Downs standings with nine victories, and his 28.1-percent strike rate is tied for second among all Oldsmar conditioners with 30 or more starts.

And while a win is a win, it is worth noting his five most recent winners posted an average margin of more than eight lengths (one, 3-year-old colt Jack B Winkle, dead-heated for first, with he and He Iz Gone 13 ¼ lengths in front of the third-place finisher).

“I run them when I think they’re ready and when I think they have a chance,” said Rodriguez, who cracked the top-10 last season with 13 victories from 46 starters. “If a horse is sick or has an issue, I don’t run them to please anybody else.

“I try to enter them in the best spot where I think they can win. You have to have a little bit of luck, too, and everything has to fall into place,” Rodriguez said. “I get most of my horses through the claiming box and sometimes they work out and sometimes they don’t, but most of the time I’ve been lucky enough to claim horses that are sound and healthy and do well.”

Rodriguez has claimed four horses at the current meeting. The 8-year-old gelding Reeder has returned for a victory and a second-place finish, and 3-year-old colt Bunster finished second in his next start. Honey Love, a 3-year-old filly, and Stay Anchored, a 4-year-old filly, have not raced since being claimed.

Rodriguez is a stickler for details, to the extent that he gallops and sometimes breezes his own horses. Connecting with them from the ground up provides insights he might not get from an exercise rider.

“I get to know how they feel and how they act, and if I find something I don’t like, I can make changes to it,” he said.

That regimen is nothing new for Rodriguez, who started galloping horses for veteran trainer Miguel Feliciano after arriving in the United States from Cuba when he was 16.

“I had no ideas then about becoming a trainer,” said Rodriguez, who waited until 2010 to take out a license. “It was pretty much day by day, galloping horses, until I figured I could do it, too.

“I don’t see myself with a lot of horses. I like the size I’m at now, because I like details, and when you have a lot of horses, you start missing details. Plus, I have a kid, and I like to spend time with him.”

Rodriguez and his wife, Dainelys, have a son, Tihago, who turns 2 in a few weeks.

Rodriguez’s best horse, the now-6-year-old, Florida-bred gelding Tiger Blood, won the 2017 Pelican Stakes and the Florida Cup Hilton Garden Inn/Hampton Inn and Suites Sprint Stakes back-to-back, the latter in 1:08.92 for the 6-furlong distance, .25 seconds off the track record. Tiger Blood is currently owned and trained by Juan Arriagada.

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