Antonio Gallardo’s 2,500th career victory aboard 3-year-old Florida-bred filly Noble Tess in today’s third race at Tampa Bay Downs was a microcosm of the Spaniard’s 15-year career in North America.
Noble Tess and Gallardo broke awkwardly in the 1-mile maiden claiming race on the turf, and they needed several strides before settling into the pace-setter’s role. But once they established their best footing, there was no catching them.
In the winner’s circle afterward, wife Polliana said it won’t take long for Gallardo to put the moment behind him and look for another mountain to climb.
“He just never slows down. He’s never content with staying where he is,” Polliana said. “He’ll put this one in his back pocket and go on to the next milestone.”
Gallardo, 36, agrees with that assessment. His hunger is almost perpetual, deriving in large part from the struggles and self-doubts he endured while winning seven races from 175 starts in 2009.
“Looking back to how I started, I could never think this would happen,” said Gallardo, a five-time Tampa Bay Downs riding champion. “It’s just a lot of hard work, and believing in God. … I needed some opportunities and I needed some luck. It’s good to look back, but now I need to look forward and go for 3,000.”
Noble Tess scored a 5-length victory from Rapid Miss Tapit in a time of 1:38.06 on a firm turf course. The winner paid $4.40 as the wagering favorite.
Gallardo was joined in the winner’s-circle celebration by Polliana and their children, Carlos, 15, and Christa, 9; his father, Antonio Gallardo, Sr.; many of his rival jockeys; and family friends. His mother Paqui is at home in Spain.
Noble Tess is owned by Gloria Dwyer and trained by Kathleen O’Connell. The Gallardo-O’Connell combination has been a mainstay at Tampa Bay Downs since Gallardo won the 2013 Challenger Stakes here on the trainer’s Flatter This.
“She (Noble Tess) broke the same way last time (a third-place finish on Dec. 15) and she got sandwiched then, but today I had clear (running) and I could send her to the lead,” he said. “She’s a one-paced filly, so on the turn I didn’t wait for anybody because if I did, she might not give me that kick.
“You have to keep going, keep going, keep going.”
Gallardo’s relationship with O’Connell has resulted in numerous good times for both. In 2013, he won four consecutive stakes races on a single card at Calder, three for O’Connell. Last year, he was on My Eagle Soars for O’Connell’s 2,386th career training victory, making her North America’s all-time leading female trainer by wins.
They’ve had so many big wins in between, they’ve lost count. But Gallardo is even more appreciative of the times O’Connell helped him regain perspective with the proverbial boot in the backside.
“A couple of years ago, she stopped giving me so many opportunities because I didn’t have the right attitude,” he said. “She told me ‘You’re my son on the racetrack, and I have to put you on the bench for a little bit.’
“She took me back last year, and I’m really happy I did this on her horse. I love her to death.”
And in the ninth race, Gallardo got started on his next quest, winning the 1-mile turf race on 3-year-old gelding Chico Charlie for owner Endsley Oaks Farm and – you guessed it – O’Connell.
Around the oval. Chico Charlie’s victory created a late Pick-5 carryover pool of $26,568 into Wednesday’s card. The popular wager disintegrated for the majority of bettors in the seventh race, a maiden claiming contest on the turf for fillies and mares 3-years-old-and-upward, when a pair of longshots lit the toteboard with a mind-boggling display of New Year’s Eve fireworks.
Three-year-old Empire Gal, a 51-1 shot ridden by Jose Morelos, defeated 122-1 shot D City Girl by a half-length, with the 4-5 favorite Lucky in Love another half-length back in third.
Empire Girl paid $105.20 to win. The $1 exacta combination of 10-7 paid $1,000.60, and the $1 10-7-3 trifecta paid $5,805.20.
Leading jockey Samy Camacho rode two winners. He was aboard 2-year-old filly Whocouldaskformo in the fourth race for owner Courtlandt Farms and trainer Claude “Shug” McGaughey, III. Camacho added the fifth race, the Cody’s Original Roadhouse Race of the Week on the turf, on Full Nelson, a 2-year-old colt owned by Gold Square LLC, Joseph R. Hardoon and Jose Francisco D’Angelo and trained by D’Angelo.
Thoroughbred racing continues Wednesday with a nine-race card beginning at 12:20 p.m. Tampa Bay Downs currently races on a Wednesday-Friday-Saturday-Sunday schedule. The track is open every day for simulcast wagering, no-limits action and tournament play in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.