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December 31, 2014


by Mike Henry
In addition to meet titles at Tampa Bay Downs and Presque Isle Downs, jockey Antonio Gallardo finishes 2014 sixth in North America with 268 victories.

In some ways, jockey Antonio Gallardo must wish 2014 could go on forever.

In February, his wife Polliana gave birth to their daughter, Christa. Gallardo went on to win his first jockeys title by riding 124 winners at Tampa Bay Downs, and he took the top spot at the Presque Isle Downs meeting in Erie, Pa., with 94 victories.

The 27-year-old Spaniard shows absolutely no signs of slowing. He rode five winners today for the second time this month, giving him 33 for the first 16 days of the 2014-2015 meeting and a 16-victory lead from five-time Tampa Bay Downs champion Daniel Centeno.

Just as noteworthy, Gallardo – who rode R Sassy Lass to victory in the $100,000 Sandpiper Stakes on Dec. 6 – finished 2014 with 268 victories, behind only Russell Baze, Javier Castellano, Irad Ortiz, Jr., Edgard Zayas and Paco Lopez in North America.

“It’s a really good year for sure, but hopefully next year is even better and I can keep going,” Gallardo said after powering 2-year-old filly Maggie Sue to a maiden victory in the ninth and final race of 2014. “I liked my horses today, but to win five, I don’t know.

“I try my best all the time and I want to win every race. I don’t care if it’s 20-1 or 5-2,” he said. “You need good horses, and my agent (Mike Moran) puts me on good horses and the trainers trust me to ride them well. I try to put everything together, and I feel comfortable. I’ll just go home tonight, have something to eat and celebrate the last day of the year with my family.”

Gallardo, who rode five winners on Dec. 6, is one of a handful of jockeys to win five races on a single Tampa Bay Downs card, the most recent before him Hall of Famer John Velazquez two seasons ago. Richard DePass set the track record of seven in 1980. Further research is needed to determine what jockeys may have won five here twice, or if any others have done so twice in the same month.

Maggie Sue, who is owned by Kenneth Ayres and trained by Jordan Blair, was one of two maiden winners for Gallardo, who scored in the seventh race on previously winless 3-year-old filly Xtra Approval for breeder-owner Chesapeake Farm and trainer Chad Stewart.

From a total of eight mounts, Gallardo also won the second race on 4-year-old gelding D’nied Permission for owner Midwest Thoroughbreds, Inc., and trainer Jamie Ness; the third on 2-year-old filly Lady Fog Horn for breeder-owner The Elkstone Group LLC and trainer Anthony Granitz; and the sixth on 4-year-old gelding Shore Runner for owner Sovereign Stable and trainer John P. Terranova, II.

Thoroughbred racing at Tampa Bay Downs resumes Friday with a 10-race card beginning at 12:25 p.m. Tampa Bay Downs is open every day for simulcast wagering, no-limits poker action in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.

More 2014 success stories. Financial advisors are fond of reminding clients that “past results are no indication of future success.” But year in and year out, Thoroughbreds that compete at Tampa Bay Downs make it to the winner’s circle in major stakes across the country.

A look back at the past several months reinforces the Oldsmar oval’s reputation for contributing to the development of star performers. They are aided, in no small measure, by the consistency of the deep, sandy main dirt surface and the lush turf course that attracts horses from the barns of many of the nation’s top trainers.

One need look no further for confirmation than the March 8 Festival Day card that featured three graded stakes, including the Grade II, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby. Yet it was an earlier race on the card that showcased a Breeders’ Cup champion in Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey’s 3-year-old colt Bobby’s Kitten, who toyed with an allowance field of fellow sophomores going a mile on the turf.

The Chad Brown-trainee put an exclamation point on 2014 by winning the Grade I, $1-million Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint at Santa Anita.

Three other horses that competed on Festival Day found graded-stakes success afterward. Tampa Bay Derby winner Ring Weekend, owned by St. Elias Stable and West Point Thoroughbreds and trained by H. Graham Motion, found the turf to his liking in both the Grade III Saranac Stakes at Saratoga and the Grade III Hill Prince at Belmont.

East Hall finished eighth in the Tampa Bay Derby, but rebounded to win the Ohio Derby and the Grade II Indiana Derby for owners Jack Hendricks and Roger Justice and trainer William Kaplan. Also of interest is that East Hall’s breeder, Mary K. Haire, bred the 1994 Ohio Derby winner, Exclusive Praline, when that ThistleDown staple was a Grade II race.

The 3-year-old filly Istanford used her second-place finish in the Grade III Florida Oaks on the turf on Festival Day as a springboard to victories in the Grade III Arlington Classic Stakes at Arlington and the Grade II San Clemente at Del Mar, both on the grass. Istanford is owned by Ike and Dawn Thrash and Sam and Janet Alley and trained by Michael Stidham.

Other Tampa Bay Downs runners to enjoy graded success in 2014 include Florida Cup Ocala Breeders’ Sales Sophomore Colts & Geldings winner Prudhoe Bay, who won the Grade III Jersey Shore Stakes at Monmouth for breeder-owner Rustlewood Farm and trainer Edward Plesa, Jr., and Grade III Lambholm South Tampa Bay Stakes winner Guys Reward, a 7-year-old who triumphed in the Grade III Metropolitan Jets Oceanport Stakes at Monmouth.

Besides the aforementioned Gallardo, other Tampa Bay Downs jockeys to finish in the top 40 for wins in North America include Ronnie Allen, Jr., 24th with 191; Fernando De La Cruz, 32nd with 178; and Daniel Centeno, 37th with 170.

On the trainers’ side of the ledger, eight-time Tampa Bay Downs leading conditioner Jamie Ness – who saddled 395 winners in 2012 to lead the continent – is 12th this year with 167. Joe Woodard (113, 27th) and Kathleen O’Connell (101, 34th) are also in the top 40.

With five consecutive Tampa Bay Downs owner titles – not to mention three Eclipse Award runner-up finishes in a row – the Midwest Thoroughbreds, Inc., operation of Rich and Karen Papiese has established itself as a worldwide industry leader.

Midwest reached a new level this year when its 5-year-old gelding Work All Week won the Xpressbet Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Santa Anita. The outfit might again be denied in the Eclipse Award balloting, but its contributions to racing and Tampa Bay Downs cannot be underestimated.

Lebron is Jockey of the Month. Victor Lebron sensed Irish Jasper might be a special filly after working her out twice leading to the $100,000 Gasparilla Stakes on Dec. 27. So when her regular rider, Kendrick Carmouche, decided to stay in Philadelphia to ride at Parx Racing, Lebron counted his blessings.

Stakes victories are rarely easy, and this was no exception. But a flawless performance by Lebron and the now-3-year-old filly’s speed and heart resulted in a half-length victory in stakes-record time of 1:22.41 for the seven furlongs.

It also led to a Hilton Garden Inn Jockey of the Month Award for the 30-year-old Lebron, who begins 2015 in fourth place in the Tampa Bay Downs jockey standings with nine victories.

“Horses like her are hard to come by,” Lebron said of Irish Jasper, who is owned by Metro Thoroughbreds, LLC and trained by Derek Ryan. “She is focused on running, and anything I wanted her to do, she was up to it. Whatever you ask, she responds right away and keeps that racing mentality.”

That’s a state of mind the native of St. Croix had been locked into since beginning his stateside career in 2005. But after the 2013-2014 Tampa Bay Downs meeting, Lebron decided it was time for a break. He rode a limited number of races at Ellis Park, Indiana Grand and Churchill Downs, but for the most part he used the summer and fall to recharge his batteries and spend time with his family: wife Ruth and their four daughters, ages 2 through 11.

“I’ve been on the road every year since I started riding, and I needed some time off to get myself back together, refresh my body and regroup,” said Lebron, whose career ledger includes 1,400 victories – including 492 combined in 2007-2008 – and a mount aboard Frac Daddy in the 2013 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands. “I want to spend as much time as I can with my kids and enjoy every moment I can with them, because you never know what can happen.”

Make no mistake: Lebron, who moved his family to Tampa last year, is invigorated about pursuing his career with the energy and determination that put him on top of the heap to begin with.

“The jockey colony here is a lot tougher than the previous two times I’ve been here, but I’ve got a strong background and I’m grateful to everyone who is helping me,” Lebron said. “It’s still there, and I am fully energized and back in the game.”

Lebron won the eighth race today on 4-year-old gelding Freestyler for owner Michael Rosen and trainer Bruce Alexander.