“Absolutely, this is definitely going to be our biggest day as horse owners,” Centofanti, whose son Raffaele and wife Kathleen own Saturday stakes participants Rose to Gold, Musical Flair, and Fine Silver, said from the Calder racing office Friday afternoon. “There is almost a part of me that wishes I could just go to sleep right now and wake up Sunday and read about what happened.”
“After her race, I will tell you that there was a very good offer made for her that I was seriously considering,” Centofanti said of a six-figure sale price that was tossed about following her victory in the Lindsay Frolic Stakes. “But if I sold her, my family would have kicked me out of the house. My wife was very upset that I was even thinking about it, and my son said ‘don’t touch my horse.’
“So I passed on the offer, and now I say that every race she runs in, I am making a big gamble without going to the betting window. Overnight, my family has made me a gambler.”
One might suggest that Centofanti was already a gambler when he and trainer Sal Santoro decided to enter the first time starter Rose to Gold in the Lindsay Frolic, a move that is not without precedent, but one that always appears a bit ambitious.
“I knew some people might have thought we were a little crazy doing that,” Centofanti said. “But the decision to start her in a stake was actually pretty easy. Sal kept telling me that she was training like a star, and the way I saw it, if she really was that good, and she was that far along in her training, it would almost be a punishment not to run her in the stake.”
Growing up in Venezuela, Centofanti came from a family that was involved in the horse business, and after coming to the U.S. as a ninth-grader, and then subsequently finding success in the coffee business, Centofanti soon found his way back to the thoroughbreds.
“My father had horses back in Venezuela and my uncle worked with Manny (Azpurua) for almost 50 years,” Centofanti said. “But I never had any intentions of getting into the business as an owner or to run horses at the races. When I first got involved, I was just pinhooking horses; I would buy them and then sell them. That was all.”
But that plan changed course a few years ago when Santoro, at that time a representative of Harley Davidson, delivered a motorcycle to the bike-loving Centofanti.
“Sal dropped off the bike and asked me about my uncle, and whether he could help him get going as a trainer,” Centofanti said. “At that time, there was little my uncle could do for him.
“But I would continue to see Sal and one day when he was delivering another bike he asked me again. So I told him to go pick out a couple of horses that my family would own, and we would let him train them.”
Santoro purchased two horses for the new owner, one of which was a filly by the name of Southside Lady, who would provide the team with its first victory when winning a maiden race at Calder on December 30, 2010.
“Back then, no one wanted to ride for us, even if we paid them up font,” Centofanti joked. “I remember we had Ramon Parish on the horse that day. We owe Ramon a lot for that win, but I don’t even know where he is these days.”
Following that victory, Centofanti made the commitment to get involved in the game as an owner at an even deeper level, further entrusting Santoro with this new venture and with his new investments.
“We saw how hands-on Sal was with the horses and we really trusted him,” Centofanti said. “That was the most important thing. For me, my wife, my whole family, the horses come first, and Sal is the same way. We could see that right away, and every day we could see that a little more; that he was always at the track with them and he never pushed them to do what they could not do.
“So at that time, Sal was working with the horses in the morning and then still going to work at Harley Davidson later in the day. One day I asked him to take a few days off so we could go to the OBS sale (in March 2011). I wanted to look for some horses to buy, and it was at that sale that we got Musical Flair.”
A son of Songandaprayer, purchased for $47,000, Musical Flair broke his maiden at odds of 16-1in his second career start on August 12, 2011. Just 15 days later, Musical Flair was entered in the $75,000 Fasig-Tipton Turf Dash where he was again ignored by the public and sent from the gate at odds of 11-1. The colt again proved his detractors wrong when prevailing by 2 ¾ lengths.
“That was one of the best moments in my life,” Centofanti said of watching Musical Flair become a stakes winner, which also gave Santoro and team Centofanti its first stake win. “And then when he came back to win the Needles Stakes (at Gulfstream) with John Velazquez riding, I felt so good, especially for Sal. He deserved it. ”
On Saturday, Centofanti will try to recreate that feeling three-fold, starting Musical Flair in the Calder version of the Needles, Rose to Gold in the Brave Raj, and Fine Silver in the Judy’s Red Shoes.
“Is it Sunday yet?” Centofanti joked when asked again how he feels one day in advance of Saturday’s races. “Honestly, I think I’ll be OK no matter what happens, but my wife is the tough one. If the horses don’t run well, she’s going to let us hear about it.”