When Fernando De La Cruz returned to the jockeys' room after winning the seventh race on a 15-1 shot Dec. 20, he approached Tampa Bay Downs Clerk of Scales Dennis Petrucelli for some congratulatory skin.
But Petrucelli, himself a former jockey, wanted none of it. "Go away," he told De La Cruz. "I don't want to get burned."
The 27-year-old Peru native rode four winners from seven mounts Friday, giving him 20 trips to the winner's circle from 48 tries (41.7%) over seven days of racing.
In addition to his four-bagger, De La Cruz has ridden three winners on four separate cards, and two the other two days. "He can do no wrong," Petrucelli said. Veteran Ronnie Allen Jr., who rode three winners Friday, stands in second in the early standings with eight victories.
De La Cruz knows he can't keep up this pace forever, but he believes as long as he keeps working hard, stays focused and remains healthy, his first Tampa Bay Downs riding crown is achievable.
"It's the same thing every day, just do my job in the mornings and try to stay relaxed," he said. "I have a lot of appreciation for the trainers because they keep putting me on good horses."
Jamie Ness isn't the only Tampa Bay Downs trainer enjoying spectacular success using De La Cruz. Jason DaCosta improved his strike rate with De La Cruz to 60% by legging him up on two winners Friday, giving the combination six victories to go with two seconds and a third from 10 starters.
The DaCosta double enabled him to pull into a tie with Ness at the top of the trainer standings with six victories each, one more than Dale Bennett. But De La Cruz wasn't finished after capturing the second and third races for DaCosta.
De La Cruz added a third victory in the sixth race aboard 6-year-old gelding Run Fat Boy Run, owned by Winning Stables and trained by Gerald Bennett. And for good measure, De La Cruz gave 15-1 shot Going to Market a textbook ride in the seventh race going 1 1/16 miles on turf, winning by three-quarters of a length from Sharp Omar.
Going to Market is a 4-year-old gelding owned by his breeder, Sagamore Farm, and trained by Ignacio Correas IV. The winner paid $32.60.
"The plan was to stay off the pace and make a move at the three-eighths pole," De La Cruz said. "My horse responded when I asked him, and he took off the final sixteenth."
De La Cruz, the runner-up to Daniel Centeno at last year's meeting, has 199 victories in the calendar year, which ranks 16th in North America.