Paula Bacon was thrilled to go along for the ride as her jockey, Antonio Gallardo, pursued a title this past summer in his first season at Colonial Downs in New Kent, Va.
As the chase progressed, with Gallardo also maintaining his customary business at Presque Isle Downs in Erie Pa., Bacon marveled at his ability to stay focused and strong while riding six days a week and making the 7-to-8-hour round trip two days a week for eight consecutive weeks.
“His work ethic is just amazing. Antonio has the will of a lion,” the veteran agent said after being informed of Gallardo’s selection as the Boot Barn Jockey of the Month. “He’s a guy who just wants to push and push and push and push. That schedule is something you’d expect a 24-year-old jockey to do.”
The 36-year-old product of Jerez de la Frontera in Cadiz, Spain rode 34 winners at Colonial Downs, six more than runner-up Mychel Sanchez. Gallardo finished second at Presque Isle Downs (a track where he has won four titles) with 85 winners, trailing only Bacon “stablemate” Pablo Morales.
During the Colonial Downs meet, which ran from July 13-Sept. 9, Gallardo mostly rode Presque Isle Downs races Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday before Bacon picked him up outside the jockeys’ room Wednesday night for the haul to Colonial.
“He would drive the first 4 hours, then I’d drive the next 4 while he slept,” Bacon said. “Then he’d get up to work a couple of horses at 6 a.m. Thursday at Colonial.”
Following Saturday’s Colonial cards, they returned to Presque Isle Sunday to refresh as much as possible for the next three days of racing there.
“It was taxing, but he didn’t complain once,” Bacon. “It takes a special kind of drive to do that. And winning the title at Colonial, to walk in there without any business from the East Coast and walk out leading jockey – it was a real testament to his ability to make things happen.”
Gallardo is second in the Tampa Bay Downs standings with eight winners, trailing only runaway leader Samy Camacho with 20.
Tampa Bay Downs fans fortunate enough to observe Gallardo’s climb from a struggling jockey who won less than 9 percent of his starts in the United States from 2009-2012 to a polished, dependable jockey capable of competing on all stages, are delighted to keep cheering him on.
His expressions and his body language fuel his backers’ passion and bespeak his competitive fire, which helped him in winning five Oldsmar riding titles and setting the track’s single-season mark in 2014-2015 with 147 winners.
“I’m always looking to do better. All the time, I always think that way,” said Gallardo, who won today’s ninth race on the turf on 2-year-old filly With Feeling for owners Reeves Thoroughbred Racing and Steven Rocco and trainer Kevin Rice. “I’m not the kind of jockey who, if I’m doing good, wants to just stay that way. I’m always (hungry).”
With 2,489 career winners stateside, Gallardo is approaching a significant milestone. But 2,500 won’t quell his ambition. And although his goals are as to be expected –win as many races as he can, possibly challenge for another Oldsmar title, stay healthy – he will also seek to extend his current streak of riding at least one graded-stakes winner to nine years in a row in 2024.
His lone graded victory in 2023 came on 3-year-old filly Mission of Joy for trainer H. Graham Motion in the Grade III Florida Oaks on the turf here in March.
“Trainers give me good opportunities, but I don’t have as many as some jockeys,” he said. “When you get those opportunities, you have to do everything right.”
That’s why they call it the big leagues – a fitting backdrop for Gallardo’s skill and artistry.
Around the oval. Apprentice jockey Laureano Sosa rode two winners today. He won the fourth on Freedom Road, a 3-year-old gelding owned by Pinnacle Racing Team and Madaket Stable and trained by Gregg Sacco. Freedom Road was claimed from the race for $8,000 by trainer Richard Sillaman for new owners Panda Stable & Rashid’s Thoroughbred Racing & LBR Racing Stable.
Sosa also won the fifth race on the turf aboard 5-year-old gelding Grounded for owners Blazing Meadows Farm and Frederick Hertrich, III and trainer Tim Hamm.
Sacco sent out two winners, also capturing the sixth race with Calisue, a 3-year-old filly bred and owned by Michael Fazio and ridden by Hector Rafael Diaz, Jr.
Due to the threat of heavy rain, the Tampa Bay Downs main track will be closed for training Sunday morning. The track will remain open Sunday for simulcast wagering and no-limits action and tournament play in The Silks Poker Room.
The training surface is expected to reopen Monday, which normally is a non-training day, at 6 a.m.
Saturday’s nine-race card begins at 12:16 p.m. The feature is the eighth race, a $53,000, 7-furlong allowance/optional claiming event for horses 3-years-old-and-upward. The 5-year-old morning-line favorite in the 10-horse field is Spikezone, a 4-year-old gelding owned by Troy Johnson, Charles Lo and Jagger, Inc., and trained by Jamie Ness. Mychel Sanchez will ride Spikezone from the No. 4 post.
Tampa Bay Downs plans to conduct its first Sunday racing card of the 2023-2024 meet on Dec. 24, beginning a four-days-a-week schedule. The track will be closed on Dec. 25, Christmas Day.