Like any jockey who has been riding for almost 30 years, Mike Allen is an authority on the up-and-down nature of his profession.
From 1993-1996, while competing primarily in Washington state, Allen won 501 races. He also recorded the only graded-stakes victory of his career – aboard L.J. Express in the Grade III Budweiser Mile at Yakima Meadows in 1995.
In 2003, Allen decided he needed a break from the demands of year-round race-riding. “I was kind of drained,” recalled Allen, who started a pressure-washing business during the winter while continuing to ride at Prairie Meadows in Iowa during the spring and summer months.
Subsequent developments suggest that stepping back from the day-in, day-out grind might have been one of the best decisions he could have made.
Allen – who also worked briefly one winter with the Tampa Bay Downs maintenance crew – returned to year-round status in 2006 to put together three of the best seasons of his career. From 2006-2008, he won a total of 295 races while amassing almost $4.5-million in purse earnings.
Now 47, Allen has reached a stage in his career when his services aren’t nearly as in demand. But as the Oldsmar resident displayed during a recent period of 14 racing days in which he won on 21.2 percent of his mounts (7-for-33), he still very much belongs when good opportunities come along.
Allen’s hot streak – which featured an average $2 winning payoff of $28.60 – was the determining factor in his selection as the Hampton Inn & Suites Jockey of the Month.
“Mike knows how to read a horse,” observed his agent, retired jockey Therese Powers. “You can’t ride every horse the same, and he has a good feel for what a horse wants. And he is a hard-working jockey, even when he isn’t winning a lot of races.
“He knows he just has to keep going, and I’m the same way,” Powers said. “We’re a good team. Mike is usually the first rider on the track every morning and the last one off, and those are the kind of riders an agent wants to work for.”
Allen, who entered Friday’s card with 1,889 victories and almost $19.5-million in career earnings, looks at the Jockey of the Month Award as recognition for a large segment of the Tampa Bay Downs riding colony that rarely gets noticed.
“There are a lot of riders like me that do well for a while, then go back down,” he said. “Being a jockey is like a roller coaster ride. When you do get to that low point when you’re not winning much, it messes with your head a little and makes you think, what are you doing wrong?
“But I’ve been riding long enough to know I have to find the right horses at the right times, and then things have to click,” Allen said. “My regular barns have stuck by me pretty good this meet, and lately I’ve been riding for some different outfits that have really helped out.”
Allen plans to move his tack to Presque Isle Downs at the conclusion of the current meeting. “This is all I’m focused on right now, hard work,” he said. “I get on a lot of horses in the mornings, which keeps me fit when I’m not riding a lot of races.”
Several of Allen’s recent triumphs have come aboard huge long shots. On March 28, he won the sixth race aboard the Francine Villeneuve-owned-and-trained 4-year-old filly Canna Red, who paid $20.20 to win. Two races later, Allen tallied on 3-year-old maiden colt Double Parqued, a Randy Klopp-trained youngster who paid $71.80.
Allen had worked both Double Parqued and Klopp’s 3-year-old colt Jacques Cartier in company, alternating between the two, so they were perhaps the least surprised guys in the joint when the first-time starter won the next day and paid $77.20. “I had told Randy I liked (Jacques Cartier) better, so that day he said ‘We’ll see if you’re right.’ That was pretty funny,” Allen said.
Allen’s wife Lisa and their 21-year-old daughter Alexis are both pony riders at Tampa Bay Downs. Their 16-year-old son Garrett is a high school wrestler, and 11-year-old son Connor is also into wrestling and video games.
Allen is the younger brother of Ronnie Allen, Jr., a four-time leading Tampa Bay Downs jockey who has ridden more than 3,200 winners, including 1993 Tampa Bay Derby champion Marco Bay. The constant comparisons by horsemen and the public were a factor in Mike heading west, but their rivalry never went beyond trying to beat each other on the track.
“People wanted to compare us, and you kind of get a shadow cast over you sometimes,” said Mike, who purchased a house in Oldsmar in 1998. “But it’s not a big deal. Just as long as we’re making a living and staying healthy, that’s what is important.”