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After giving his son a leg up on his 3-year-old filly, first-time starter Red Brick, in the paddock before today’s fifth race, trainer Ronald Allen, Sr., reflected on the younger Allen’s position atop the Tampa Bay Downs jockey standings.
“You’ve got to be proud of him,” Allen, Sr., said following the third of Ronnie’s three consecutive victories today. Those wins pushed him ahead of injured Fernando De La Cruz with 24 victories through 19 days of racing.
“He works hard, takes good care of himself and eats good, and he’s a good, strong rider,” Allen, Sr., said. “He learned the game from the ground up. He started rubbing and walking horses when he was real young, and when he was in high school he galloped horses in the morning before his classes.”
Allen, Jr., is 49, yet his enthusiasm seems unquenchable. It is as if he has found a secret passage to his own personal Fountain of Youth.
“Jockeys are like any athlete – you have to take care of your body,” Allen, Sr., said. “He doesn’t drink, and he gets on a lot of horses in the morning. The bottom line is, he loves winning. All he wants to do is win, and he doesn’t care what the form looks like. He is always going to do his best.”
Although Red Brick could only manage a fifth-place finish in the maiden claiming event, Allen, Jr., came away convinced she learned enough from the experience to be more competitive next time. Given that the four-time Tampa Bay Downs riding champion has probably forgotten more tricks of the trade than many of his rivals half his age know, Red Brick probably is a filly to keep an eye on.
Consider the fourth race, in which Allen piloted 5-year-old claiming mare Chelsie’s Chapel to victory for owner Cindy Patrick and trainer R.G. Patrick. The winner’s margin from runner-up Gray Storm A’comin was two-and-a-quarter lengths, but would have been a lot closer if not for Allen’s alertness.
“I thought I had the race easy (at the top of the stretch), then I looked under my shoulder and saw that gray mare coming,” he said. “So I kind of gave him (rival jockey John Jude) a little ‘float’ (to the outside) and he lost his momentum a little bit, and I was able to open up on him.”
Rest assured Allen, Jr., is a staunch advocate of rider safety. Before floating Gray Storm A’comin to the middle of the track, he made sure his horse had a clear advantage.
“You have to do it at the right moment. You can’t wait too long, and you have to have a (clear) advantage and do it smooth, without bumping the other horse. Then you have to make sure you drop back down, because normally when you are in front and drift out a little bit, your horse is going to follow that other horse out.
“It takes a little experience to learn how to do that stuff,” added Allen, who rode his first sanctioned race in 1983 and has more than 3,000 career victories. “If that other horse had hooked me, I might have lost.”
Trainers have taken notice of Allen’s consistency and his smarts. Over the past three days he rode 19 horses for 17 different trainers.
“I think trainers are seeing how good I’m doing, how strong I’m riding and how I’m making good decisions during races,” said Allen, who also credits agent Paula Bacon, herself a former jockey, for her efforts getting him plenty of business. “I’m not rushing horses too much – just sitting back and waiting for the right moment to make my move.”
In addition to Chelsie’s Chapel, Allen won the second race on 4-year-old gelding Fast Flying Fist for owner Nelson McMakin and trainer Tim Richardson and the third on 4-year-old gelding Zio Stephan for owners Drake Racing Stables, Muirfield Farm and Michael Lobalzo and trainer Freddie Hyatt.
Two-time Tampa Bay Downs leading jockey Jesus Castanon will be rejoining the local riding colony this week from Gulfstream, agent Don Cespedes reported. Castanon won the 2003-04 and 2004-05 titles, winning a combined 188 races.
The 40-year-old native of Mexico City, who won his first race at Agua Caliente in 1989, has 2,204 career victories. He was involved in a spill at Gulfstream on Saturday, but said on his Facebook page late Saturday night he incurred only muscle swelling and soreness.
Castanon won the 2011 Preakness Stakes on Shackleford and was second that same year on the horse in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile. Cespedes said he will handle the bookings for both Castanon and Tampa Bay Downs newcomer Marlon St. Julien while his main client, Fernando De La Cruz, is sidelined with a broken arm.
Castanon will join Daniel Centeno, Ronnie Allen, Jr., Willie Martinez and Jorge Guerra as past track riding champions based at Tampa Bay Downs.
Antonio Gallardo matched Allen on Sunday, riding three winners to improve to 18 for the meeting, good for third place. Gallardo won the sixth race on the turf on 4-year-old colt Callmeback for co-owner-trainer Gary Jackson and owners M and G Stables, LLC and Katherine Nielsen. He then swept the late daily double, winning the ninth on 7-year-old gelding Starlighter for owner Equels Marro Racing, LLC and trainer Carl Larsen and the 10th on the turf on 4-year-old gelding Minecraft for owner Big Lick Farm and trainer Reid Nagle.
In the eighth race Sunday, the Cody’s Original Roadhouse Race of the Week at a mile on the turf, 4-year-old gelding Craving Carats held off late rallies from Rerun and Professor Palmer to reward trainer Jordan Blair with his second career victory.
Craving Carats is owned by Donegal Racing and was ridden by Harry Vega.
Registration is underway for the “Live It Up Challenge” handicapping contest, an online competition beginning on Festival Preview Day, Saturday, Feb. 1. The grand-prize winner receives $1,000 and a seat at the 2015 Daily Racing Form/National Thoroughbred Racing Association National Handicapping Championship (date and site to be determined). Second place receives $1,000, third place receives $500 and a $500 prize will be awarded to the handicapper selecting the most overall winners.
There is no fee for entering the contest. Complete rules are available at the online site. Registration may be accessed through a link on the track website at www.tampabaydowns.com or by visiting the contest website directly at www.liveitupchallenge.com
The registration deadline is 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 1, which is the first day of the contest and also Festival Preview Day, highlighted by the Grade III, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes, a traditional Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands stepping stone.
The contest runs every day through Saturday, April 5. Players make a mythical $2 win-place-show wager on a single horse in one of each day’s two challenge races, and their bankroll accrues throughout based on official pari-mutuel payoffs, with strikes being assessed for an out-of-the-money finish (three strikes is goodbye, although the player remains eligible for the most wins prize).
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.

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