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December 15, 2017


by Mike Henry
Some of his rivals weren't born when he won his first Oldsmar title, but Ronnie Allen, Jr.'s youthful, enthusiastic approach plays well in any decade; Festival Cotillion Day stakes action begins with second race; Michael Stidham-Brian Pedroza combo tallies again.

When Ronnie Allen, Jr., won his first riding title at Tampa Bay Downs, you could buy the original, mouse-driven Macintosh personal computer for about $2,500.

But at least it wasn’t too expensive to get to the computer store. The average price for a gallon of gasoline then was $1.10. Movie tickets cost $2.50, probably accounting for the same faces showing up to watch Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.


Ronnie Allen, Jr.

Ronald Reagan had just begun his second term as President of the United States, but the former actor who played a Notre Dame legend in the movies was no more popular than San Francisco quarterback Joe Montana, who had just led the 49ers to their second Super Bowl triumph.

On the Thoroughbred racing front, Wild Again was being lauded for his thrilling victory in the inaugural, rough-and-tumble Breeders’ Cup Classic at Hollywood Park, while a 3-year-old with Tampa connections named Spend a Buck appeared ready to improve after finishing third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.

It was the 1984-1985 season at the Oldsmar oval, and the brash-yet-likeable, 20-year-old Allen had proved he belonged against a veteran-laden colony by riding a meeting-high 54 winners.

Two more titles in the next three seasons followed, with Allen booting home an unprecedented 102 winners during the 1987-1988 meeting, eclipsing his record total from the previous year by 26 victories.

Allen never quite achieved the heights his meteoric start forecast, and personal issues forced him off the track from 2003-2007. But the Ohio native has shown a Swiss watchmaker’s finesse for rolling back the clock in recent seasons, capturing his fourth Oldsmar title in 2010-2011 and finishing fourth last season with 69 winners.

After finishing tied for third at Presque Isle Downs in Pennsylvania over the summer, Allen has wasted no time claiming his customary perch locally. With eight winners – including horses that paid $78.60, $40.60 and $20 – Allen is the Señor Tequila Mexican Grill Jockey of the Month.

The 53-year-old phenomenon (which he remains, to race goers who recall his glory days) beat out Brian Pedroza, Antonio Gallardo and Ademar Santos for the honor.

While he would welcome a fifth Tampa Bay Downs title, Allen, who rides top contender Zipping in Saturday’s $125,000 Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association Marion County Florida Sire Stakes, owns the inner peace, composure and quiet self-confidence to take each race, and each day, as they come.

“My goals are about the same as they are every meet – to get good mounts, try hard on every horse and try to get to the winner’s circle,” Allen said. “It’s always tough here, and there are a lot of riders and new outfits this season, so you hope to have some luck and win some races right off the bat.

“Having a couple of long shots that really ran well helped me a lot,” he added.

Observing Allen’s low-key demeanor on the backside during training hours, it would be hard to guess he is always among the leading Oldsmar jockeys. He and his agent Paula Bacon, a former jockey against whom Allen competed, share a wavelength that enables them to win consistently and accept defeats gracefully.

“She and I are good friends, and we work well together,” Allen said. “There are a lot of good riders here and mounts can be few and far between, but we’re off to a good start, so hopefully people will notice and her phone will be ringing a lot more.”

Like any top jockey, Allen does his homework. Before conducting a short interview Wednesday, he was found seated at his cubicle in the jockeys’ room in a bathrobe, studying past performances for an upcoming race.

“You can’t try to change your horse’s running style,” Allen said. “You have to ride a horse for what the horse is, and that involves studying the program and looking at replays to see how the horse likes to run.”

Allen is also a devoted student of track conditions and subtle surface changes, insights he has picked up competing here for three-plus decades.

“Early in the meet, the track was very speed-biased, so you had to keep your horse close to have a chance – except on the rail, which was pretty dead,” Allen said. “It’s just stuff you learn by watching races and getting a feel for the track early in the day. Since we had that big rain, it seems like things are evening out and horses are coming from behind to win more, but this track changes a lot from day-to-day and you have to pay attention.”

Allen, whose younger brother Mike is also a Tampa Bay Downs jockey, is approaching 3,600 career victories. He won both the 1993 Sam F. Davis Stakes and Tampa Bay Derby (before either was graded) on Marco Bay and competed in the 1985 Preakness. His father, Ronnie Allen, Sr., is a trainer who has sent out 1,498 winners.

Allen credits working several horses each morning with keeping him in the condition needed to compete against riders roughly half his age. “My body is holding up pretty well so far, knock on wood,” he said, smiling.

One of Allen’s major objectives this season is getting his first graded-stakes victory. “It would be the highlight of my career,” he said. “Hopefully I can get lucky and find that good horse.”

Festival Cotillion Day promises fun, excitement. Allen’s mount in the FTBOA Marion County FSS, the 3-year-old gelding Zipping, is a 7-2 third choice in the seven-horse field, behind Three Rules and Mo Cash. Zipping is 3-for-14 lifetime, finishing third in the Millions Classic Preview Stakes at Gulfstream Park West last month in his most recent start. Zipping is trained by Roger Laurin.

The inaugural edition of the FTBOA Marion County FSS, for 3-year-old colts and geldings that are FTBOA-registered Florida-breds sired by FTBOA-registered Florida stallions, is the third race on Saturday’s 10-race Festival Cotillion Day card and one of four stakes on the program.

It will be preceded by the first running of the FTBOA City of Ocala Florida Sire Stakes for 3-year-old fillies that are FTBOA-registered Florida-breds sired by an FTBOA-registered Florida stallion. The morning-line, 2-1 favorite is R Angel Katelyn, who won last season’s Sandpiper, Gasparilla and Florida Cup Stonehedge Farm South Sophomore Fillies last season at Tampa Bay Downs. She is trained by Gerald Bennett and will be ridden by Antonio Gallardo.

Both FTBOA-sponsored races are at 7 furlongs on the main track.

A pair of traditional Tampa Bay Downs stakes for 2-year-olds will also be contested. The sixth race is the 39th edition of the $100,000 Sandpiper for juvenile fillies. The 5-2 morning-line favorite in the field of nine is Florida-bred Toni Ann’s Miracle, who is trained by Larry Pilotti and will be ridden by Emisael Jaramillo.

The ninth race brings together 2-year-old colts and geldings for the 33rd running of the $100,000 Inaugural Stakes. Morning-line favoritism at 5-2 belongs to Tricks to Doo, who is trained by Arnaud Delacour and will be ridden by Daniel Centeno.

Saturday’s festivities kick off with the “Welcome Back” EG Vodka Brunch at the Downs Presented by PDQ from 10:30 a.m.-noon. For $8, patrons will receive scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon, hash browns, fresh fruit, beverages and pastries, along with Grandstand admission and a Tampa Bay Downs racing program.

Tickets are available in the Tampa Bay Downs General Office and at the breakfast site.

Post time for Saturday’s first race is 12:25 p.m.

Around the oval. The trainer-jockey combination of Michael Stidham and Brian Pedroza continued their red-hot start to the meeting when Pedroza rallied 3-2 favorite Speeding Starlet to a maiden victory in the seventh race on the turf. The 2-year-old filly, who completed the mile-and-a-sixteenth in 1:44.73, is owned by Cobra Farm and R R Partners.

Stidham and Pedroza are both 6-for-13 through today’s action, with Stidham atop the trainer standings, one victory more than Kathleen O’Connell.

Leading jockey Daniel Centeno rode two winners today, giving him 12 for the meeting. He won the first race on Finglas, a 3-year-old gelding owned by Catherine M. Wills and trained by Arnaud Delacour. Centeno added the fourth to his ledger on 5-year-old Florida-bred gelding Fancy Man, owned by Yenise Rosario-Colon and trained by Edwin Texidor, Jr.

 Tampa Bay Downs is currently racing on a Wednesday-Friday-Saturday schedule, with Sundays added to the mix on Dec. 31. The track is open every day except Christmas, Dec. 25 for simulcast wagering, no-limits poker action and tournament play in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.