Antonio Gallardo struggled to make the adjustments necessary to succeed in the United States when he began riding at Calder in Miami on a full-time basis in 2009.
“I needed to change everything,” said the 25-year-old Gallardo, who began his career as a teenager at Costa del Sol Racecourse in Malaga, Spain. “I had to get used to the different style of riding, and the clock (in a jockey’s head) is different in Europe. Here, you need to push right away because the pace is always a lot faster, and it took me a few months to get used to that.”
The native of Jerez de la Frontera, a municipality in the province of Cadiz, Spain, won only seven of 175 races in 2009. It didn’t get much easier the following year, but Gallardo was determined to prove himself capable of competing stateside on a regular basis.
In the past few weeks, he has taken several major steps forward, including a victory March 2 aboard 14-1 shot Flatter This in the $60,000 Challenger Stakes. Now ninth in the standings with 20 victories, Gallardo has been selected the Hilton Garden Inn/Hampton Inn & Suites Jockey of the Month.
“This is a tough meet, and there are a lot of good riders here,” Gallardo said. “But I think now more trainers will give me a chance.”
Gallardo felt unbeatable the morning of the Challenger. Although trainer Kathleen O’Connell’s 6-year-old Flatter This was a long shot, Gallardo had won a mile starter handicap on him about four months earlier at Calder and expected a strong effort.
“I had never seen Antonio as excited as he was that morning,” his agent, Yamil Mayo, said. “We were playing cards and he said he had a feeling inside he was going to win that stakes. He came back after the race and asked me, ‘You see why I was so excited?’ ”
“I was very confident that day, and I could see in the paddock Flatter This felt strong,” Gallardo said. “I knew if we were close in the stretch, he would finish.”
The victory by Flatter This against the likes of 2012 Tampa Bay Derby winner Prospective extended a roll that has made Gallardo a rider to reckon with. His recent successes include victories on a pair of first-time starters for trainer Monte Thomas in 3-year-old fillies Gator Princess and Retsina. “K.O. (O’Connell) and Monte have really helped me a lot,” said Gallardo.
O’Connell says the feeling is mutual. “He fits well with my babies down south (at Calder),” she said. “He has a very good set of hands, he is an astute student of the sport and he has a very good work ethic. And he has a good opinion of a horse – he can come back and tell you something you can use. We work well together.”
Gallardo is the grandson of a jockey, Pepe Gallardo. The youngster rode extensively throughout Europe, including Newmarket, before arriving in the United States four years ago.
Six months ago, Gallardo wed Pollyana Oliveira. They have a 4-year-old son, Carlos. Gallardo credits her for his winning attitude regardless of his results on the track. “When I get down a little, she is very positive. She really helps me out when something is wrong,” he said.
O’Connell sees nothing but good things ahead for Gallardo. “He seems to be able to judge pace well and be in coordination with the horse,” she said. “He really is an asset to our operation.”
In Wednesday’s feature race, the six-furlong Hilton Garden Inn/Hampton Inn & Suites Prep allowance, Maureen Hyland’s 5-year-old horse Why Pretend rallied for a two-and-three-quarters length victory from 1-5 favorite Guam Typhoon in a rapid time of 1:10.26. Duty Blues finished third in the seven-horse field.
Why Pretend, who is trained by Angel Hyland, was ridden by Fernando De La Cruz. The Kentucky-bred is now 6-for-24 lifetime. He had finished a non-threatening sixth in the $75,000 Super Stakes on Feb. 23. Why Pretend paid $17 to win.
Guam Typhoon, a 7-year-old gelding who was making his first start since winning the $100,000 Changing Times Stakes at Penn National on Sept. 22, was gunning for his ninth consecutive victory. The Jamie Ness-trainee won three stakes last year at three different tracks.
Tampa Bay Downs trainer Joan Scott’s brilliant 3-year-old filly Cor Cor, owned by Steve Ballou and Harriet Waldron, burnished her reputation at Monday’s Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company’s “Day of Champions” at the Ocala Training Center, equaling the six-furlong track record while winning the $50,000 Sprint Filly Division.
Cor Cor’s winning time on the synthetic SafeTrack surface was 1:09.60, matching the record set two years ago by Megalith, who finished fourth in the 2010 Inaugural Stakes in his only Tampa Bay Downs start.
Cor Cor went wire-to-wire Monday, winning by almost five lengths from Over the Counter under Tampa Bay Downs jockey Scott Spieth. It was the fourth victory in five career outings for the daughter of Smoke Glacken-Babe’s Flair, by Capote, who won the Dec. 1 Sandpiper Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs as a 2-year-old under Spieth in stakes-record time of 1:10.02 and the Feb. 2 Battle of New Orleans Stakes at Fair Grounds in 1:04.86 for five-and-a-half furlongs on the turf under Rosie Napravnik.
Cor Cor’s only setback was a strong second to Kauai Katie in the Grade III Old Hat Stakes at Gulfstream on Jan. 1. Kauai Katie, trained by Todd Pletcher for Stonestreet Stables LLC, is 5-for-6 lifetime with Grade II victories at Saratoga, Belmont and Gulfstream.
Scott may elect to point Cor Cor to the Grade II, seven-furlong Beaumont Stakes Presented by Keeneland Select at the Lexington, Ky., track on April 14.
Also on the “Day of Champions” card, jockey Gary Boulanger won for the first time since returning to the saddle after an eight-year hiatus, riding 3-year-old colt Conquestor to a last-to-first victory in the $50,000 Sprint Colts and Geldings Division. The son of Broken Vow-Runaway in Love, by Runaway Groom, broke his maiden with the victory for owner John C. Oxley and trainer Mark Casse.
Boulanger was seriously injured in a 2005 spill at Gulfstream in which he suffered a ruptured spleen, broken ribs and detached tendon in his left elbow. A blood clot was removed from his brain and part of his skull was removed to precent cranial pressure, then replaced.
Boulanger, who rode his first winner in 1987 at Tampa Bay Downs in an Arabian-bred race, made his return here on Feb. 17. He has ridden more than 3,100 winners in his career, including the 2001 Queen’s Plate at Woodbine on Dancethruthedawn.
The “Day of Champions” is held annually to coincide with the sales company’s two-day selected sales of 2-year-olds in training.
Thoroughbred racing at Tampa Bay Downs resumes on Friday with a 10-race card beginning at 12:40 p.m. The track is open every day except Easter Sunday, March 31 for simulcast wagering, no-limits poker action in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.