OLDSMAR, FL. – Away from Tampa Bay Downs, trainer Cathy Rountree and Hilton Garden Inn/Hampton Inn & Suites Jockey of the Month Ronnie Allen, Jr. travel in different circles.
“I don’t know him at all personally, but I’ve always tried to use him as much as I can,” Rountree said. “I don’t think he has ever given me a bad ride. And he always has a positive attitude, which I think helps a lot.”
Rountree, who races most of her horses under her Seven Gables banner, had already named Allen to ride her 6-year-old horse Royal Hill and her 6-year-old mare Kings Tuesday on the turf on successive cards – when the opportunity arose to put Allen on her 4-year-old filly Solo Star on Jan. 6, in a seven-furlong sprint for $8,000 claiming horses.
With Danny Coa serving a suspension, Rountree switched to Allen, who had ridden Solo Star here Dec. 7. Allen responded by rallying the filly to a four-and-a-half length victory at odds of 6-1.
Although it didn’t seem like a big deal to many, Allen was 5-for-73 for the meet before getting the mount on Solo Star. Since then, he has gone 9-for-26, including heart-stopping, come-from-behind victories on Royal Hill and Kings Tuesday (both of which paid $19 to win).
Fate? Maybe, maybe not. But Allen’s knack for grasping opportunity when it knocked helps explain how he earned the Hilton Garden Inn/Hampton Inn & Suites Jockey of the Month Award.
“Her horses are running real good, and I picked up that one mount. This game is a lot of luck sometimes,” Allen said, musing on his three-race winning streak for Rountree. “I’ve just always been lucky in this game, and everything seems to work out good for me.”
The victories by Solo Star and Royal Hill on Jan. 6 marked the first time Rountree, who ships her horses from her farm in Ocala, had won two races on a single card.
In Royal Hill’s victory, Rountree credited Allen with backing him off a fast pace and getting him to relax in mid-pack before launching his decisive rally. Allen’s effort on Kings Tuesday on Jan. 9 was even more impressive.
After getting shuffled back at the start, Allen settled her back in last place, but never came off the rail. Biding his time, he called upon Kings Tuesday (owned by Denis A. Dwyer) for her best when an opening developed, and they beat Lucky Lass to the wire by a neck.
“He has a great sense of the pace of a race,” Rountree said, “which some riders do not seem to have. He has very good hands, and if he has a horse that wants the lead, he knows how to get it to relax on the front end.”
And Allen, who has ridden 2,917 winners in his career, is also a master strategist who seems to make the right moves at the right time. With Kings Tuesday, he knew he still had a chance despite the troubled start once he got her to relax.
“A lot of it is just patience, sitting back and knowing you have the horse and watching what is going on in front of you,” he said. “It’s also knowing the different jockeys; some just stay on the rail and some will drift off the rail.
“You have to know who is in front of you, what’s going on and how people ride. All that stuff comes with experience.”
Befitting his standing as a 30-year veteran who has experienced countless peaks and valleys, the 48-year-old Allen wasn’t worried about his slow beginning at the meet. “All my horses were running good, and I had a lot of seconds and thirds,” he said. “I knew once the cycle came back around, a lot of those would turn into wins.”
Considering his second-place finish in the standings last season, when he rode 80 winners, and his fourth-place finish at Presque Isle Downs last summer, it’s clear any talk of a decline was premature.
“My attitude is: I just want to win. That’s all there is to it,” Allen said. “I love winning, I like the excitement and I love all the people on the backside. I know I don’t have too many years left, so as long as I feel good and am doing the best that I can, I’m going to keep going.
“I’m just kind of riding for all the little guys,” Allen said, the familiar grin creasing his face. “But hopefully some of the bigger outfits will start noticing and riding me, too.”
Live racing at Tampa Bay Downs resumes Friday with a first-race post time of about 12:25 p.m. There will be a Super High Five carryover of $54,775 and a Pick-5 carryover of $9,446. The track 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.