Ronnie Allen, Jr., had the look 29 years ago, when he locked up the first of his four Tampa Bay Downs jockey titles before his 21st birthday.
Daniel Centeno sported it during his dominating run from 2006-2010, when he averaged 1.48 winners a performance during those four seasons.
It’s a steely, no-nonsense gaze willing to engage all comers, yet intensely focused and able to shut out distractions when it’s time to mount up and perform a job. For the past three weeks, it has belonged to Antonio Gallardo, who appears to be on the verge of capturing his first Tampa Bay Downs jockeys’ title with six racing days left in the 2013-14 meeting.
The Spaniard’s four-victory performance today was his sixth of the meeting and raised his win total to 111, seven ahead of Allen, who rode one winner. Gallardo has won 19 races over the last eight racing days, presenting the 50-year-old Allen with a monumental hurdle to overcome.
The 26-year-old Gallardo plans to leave nothing to chance. “Nothing is over until the last day,” he said, channeling his inner Yogi Berra. “Ronnie Allen could win nine races in one week. I feel comfortable, and I feel I can win, but there is pressure because people are always coming up to me telling me they want me to win. Plus other people are watching me closer – other jockeys, trainers and fans.
“So I just try to relax and ride my own race and not make mistakes,” he added.
Jockeys like Allen and Centeno can tell Gallardo from experience that being on the best horse in a race – as he so often has been in recent weeks, with more and more trainers turning to his hot hands – doesn’t make the job any easier.
When you’re riding horses for the likes of leading trainer Jamie Ness, and the odds are driven down to 4-5, that’s when you have to summon 100 percent professionalism, follow the game plan, react to unforeseen developments in a race and not move too soon.
That’s what Gallardo is doing on a day-in, day-out basis. He is quick to credit his agent, Mike Moran, and trainers such as Ness and Kathleen O’Connell for lining him up on fast horses, but horse racing is first and foremost a business, and results are what matter most to horsemen.
“There is a difference between riding live horses and winning on live horses,” Ness said. “He is getting on the best horse a lot and he is making the most of his opportunities.”
The look is a big part of the story. Plus, Gallardo’s attitude.
“He comes out every morning and works hard, he is very focused and he has a good attitude all the time, win or lose,” Ness said. “Whatever happens, he is quick to move on to the next race. That is so important from a trainer’s standpoint – to have a jockey who is confident and has an upbeat attitude, win or lose.”
Gallardo became a new father in February, when his wife Polliana delivered a daughter, Christa. The couple also has a 5-year-old son, Carlos. Family life provides a daily perspective check that enables Gallardo to show up every morning fresh and optimistic about life and his job.
“Polli rode a few races as an apprentice jockey and was an assistant trainer and exercise rider, so she knows the pressures of the business. She knows when I come home, it’s time to relax, be a husband and a father and not worry about what happened at the racetrack,” he said.
Two of Gallardo’s victories today came for O’Connell – in the second race on the turf on 3-year-old filly Maggies Applause, owned by Woodford Thoroughbreds, and in the seventh on 5-year-old gelding Run Jac Run, owned by Dennis Holman.
The other two came for owner St. George Stable, LLC and trainer Efren Loza, Jr. – in the fifth race on first-time starter Grosero, a 3-year-old colt, and in the 10th – the Lambholm South Race of the Week at five furlongs on the turf – on 4-year-old filly Fascinante.
“If I can win my first title here, I don’t think it will make me any less hungry,” Gallardo said. “I love coming to work every day, I love being a jockey and I love horses.”
If you get to meet him, the look will affirm the truth of his words.
Tampa Bay Downs Kentucky Derby Party next Saturday. What was your favorite Kentucky Derby?
Was it the 99th edition in 1973, when the legendary Secretariat not only set the still-standing record of 1:59 2/5 – but ran faster every quarter-mile, speeding the final two furlongs in 23 seconds?
Do you remember the “Fighting Finish Derby” in 1933, when Don Meade on victorious Brokers Tip and Herb Fisher on Head Play battled down the stretch (literally, the two jockeys grabbing at each other’s saddlecloths, pulling their rival’s reins and Fisher striking Meade with his whip)?
Maybe you were introduced to the most exciting two minutes in sports seven years ago among a delirious Tampa Bay Downs crowd of 11,014, when jockey Calvin “Bo-Rail” Borel won his first Kentucky Derby (and trainer Carl Nafzger his second) with Tampa Bay Derby winner Street Sense.
And there are many racing fans who still get choked up reliving 54-year-old jockey Bill Shoemaker’s instinctive, miraculous journey aboard the Charlie Whittingham-trained Ferdinand in 1986.
For area Thoroughbred fans, and anyone who loves the spectacle of world-class racing and heart-pounding excitement, the Oldsmar oval is the place to be on May 3 to enjoy all the pageantry and tradition sure to accompany the 140th renewal of the Run for the Roses at Churchill Downs in Louisville.
The annual Tampa Bay Downs Kentucky Derby Party brings together fun-loving souls, serious handicappers and anyone intrigued by the majesty, mystery and strength of the Thoroughbred, providing a full day to savor the annual extravaganza.
And if the Derby winner happens to be Grade II Tampa Bay Derby winner Ring Weekend, Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes winner Vinceremos or another 3-year-old that competed here, expect the tremors to reverberate throughout the Tampa Bay area.
The Tampa Bay Downs Derby party begins with the simulcast of the first race from Churchill Downs that morning and lasts until a blanket of 554 red roses are draped across the winner’s withers after the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands is official. Adding to the fervor, Tampa Bay Downs will conduct a full card of racing as its 2013-14 meeting winds down to a precious few days.
Tampa Bay Downs has produced two of the last seven Kentucky Derby winners: 2007 Tampa Bay Derby winner Street Sense and 2010 Tampa Bay Derby third-place finisher Super Saver.
The gates open at 10:30 a.m. The Trackside Pavilion adjacent to the paddock is hosting a special event, with a buffet from noon-2 p.m. featuring sliced roast beef with Kentucky bourbon and mushroom sauce, grilled chicken breast with Chive Mornay sauce, honey-glazed ham with pineapple mustard sauce and a selection of desserts including Kentucky Derby pie.
Fans will also have the opportunity to enjoy the entire simulcast programs from Churchill Downs and other major tracks across the country.
The cost to attend the Trackside Pavilion event is $45.95, which includes reserved seating; a full buffet luncheon; a Tampa Bay Downs racing program; a mint julep in a commemorative souvenir Kentucky Derby glass, with the names of all 139 winners; and entry into the Derby hat contest.
Simply put, the Tampa Bay Downs Kentucky Derby party is an annual highlight you won’t regret attending. For more details, call the Tampa Bay Downs Group Sales Department at (813) 855-4401, extension 1386.
Thoroughbred racing at Tampa Bay Downs resumes Sunday with a first-race post time of 12:30 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.