As his quest to set the track’s single-season record for victories enters its final week, jockey Antonio Gallardo marvels at what Daniel Centeno accomplished seven years ago.
“I had five winners twice this season,” Gallardo, 27, said. “I’ve won 13 or 14 races in a week a couple of times, and I’m still (four victories) behind. He had to win races like crazy the year he set the record.”
In fact, Centeno’s Tampa Bay Downs record of 144 victories during the 2007-2008 meeting was the second year of a four-season period in which he dominated like no other rider in track history, with the possible exceptions of Mike Manganello in the late 1960s and early 1970s and William Henry from 1992-1997.
During the span from 2006-2010, Centeno rode 540 winners at Tampa Bay Downs, averaging 1.48 winners a performance while winning the riding title four years in a row.
With the 2014-2015 meeting winding down and the Thoroughbred population thinning, horsemen increasingly are turning to Gallardo and Centeno to get the job done, and they responded in grand fashion today. They combined to win the first seven races – four for Centeno and three for Gallardo.
Gallardo added the ninth race to his ledger to cap a 4-for-4 performance. With 140 victories this meeting, Gallardo needs five winners in four days next week to set a new Oldsmar standard.
Riding against Centeno the past three winters, Gallardo has gone to school on how the 43-year-old veteran – second in this year’s standings with 85 victories – conducts his business. “I’ve learned a lot of things from watching him. He is very smart about where he puts his horses in a race and when to move, and he is tough to pass. He always tries hard,” Gallardo said.
Gallardo proved he is an apt student in today’s fifth race, a maiden claiming event for fillies and mares on the turf. After Centeno took the lead in the stretch aboard Jamaica Bay, Gallardo urged 3-year-old Naughty Humor through a narrow opening and took aim on the leader, dropping his mount’s nose on the wire first.
Then, for good measure, Gallardo and 5-year-old gelding Gallico repelled a late challenge from Paul Reiff and Centeno to win the ninth race, the Cody’s Original Roadhouse Race of the Week on the turf, by the slimmest of margins.
The stakes in the fifth race might not have been high, but it was as thrilling a finish as you’re going to see. Winning trainer Antonio Machado gave the credit to Gallardo, who has already clinched his third consecutive meeting title after finishing atop the standings last year both here and at Presque Isle Downs in Erie, Pa.
“It’s his energy, his strength,” said Machado, punching the air with both hands for emphasis. “All you have to do is look at the numbers, and that tells you everything. He’s constant. He never takes a break.”
Brian Smeak, the assistant to trainer Kathleen O’Connell, was even more direct and to the point when asked after their third-race victory with 6-year-old gelding Discreet Duke what has stood out about Gallardo during the current meeting.
“Consistency and hard work,” Smeak said. “And he is a good family man.”
Gallardo and his wife Polliana, a former jockey, have two children: son Carlos, 6, and daughter Christa, 15 months. They will be separated part of the summer when Polliana and the kids visit Gallardo’s family in Spain while he continues to pursue victories.
Following next Sunday’s Oldsmar card, Gallardo will head north to ride for two weeks at ThistleDown Racino in Cleveland before moving his tack to Presque Isle Downs for the summer.
ThistleDown, which opens Monday, runs through Oct. 24, while Presque Isle Downs runs from May 17-Oct. 1. Gallardo – currently third in North America for the 2015 calendar year with 107 victories, behind Javier Castellano and T.D. Houghton – hopes to give those two riders a run for their money after finishing sixth last year with 268 victories.
To do so, he plans to compete at both tracks seven days a week whenever possible (Presque Isle runs from Sunday through Thursday and ThistleDown runs on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays). Gallardo may also compete at both tracks on certain days.
“When I’m fit and I feel good, this is the time to do it,” he said. “I will know when I need to take time off, trust me. I’m young, I feel excited about what I do and I want to win as many races as I can.
“I’m going to try my best to break the record here, but I don’t think about it a lot,” he said. “I go race-to-race, day-to-day and give my 100 percent, so if I don’t break it, I’m still happy. I’m leading jockey again, I’ve had a great meet, I have a great family and good friends, and a lot of people have helped me to get here.”
And although Gallardo is not averse to wearing his confidence on his sleeve, he knows that his ability to get to the next level in his profession depends on his willingness to improve.
“You never stop learning. The day you think you know everything, you’re done,” Gallardo said. “I watch all the replays to see the good things and the bad things I do. Having owners and trainers and bettors trust me is a good feeling, and I want them to keep trusting me.”
Trainer Jamie Ness extended his lead to 44-41 from Gerald Bennett in the competition for top trainer today with two victories. Ness is bidding for an unprecedented ninth consecutive Oldsmar training crown. Kathleen O’Connell is third with 36 after sending out two winners.
In the owners’ race, five-time champion Midwest Thoroughbreds, Inc., kept a 22-21 lead from current runner-up Amaty Racing Stables, as both won a race today.
Thoroughbred racing at Tampa Bay Downs resumes Wednesday with an eight-race card beginning at 12:37 p.m. The track is open every day for simulcast wagering, no-limits poker action and Three Card Poker in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.
Kentucky Derby countdown on. Kentucky Derby Day is always special at Tampa Bay Downs, and perhaps more so than ever this year, with the quality of the top contenders possibly rivaling that of the 1957 Derby field (of course, eventual Hall of Fame members Gallant Man, Round Table and Bold Ruler all finished behind winner Iron Liege on that fateful afternoon when Bill Shoemaker, aboard Gallant Man, misjudged the finish line, possibly costing him the victory against fierce rival and later Tampa Bay Downs steward Bill Hartack).
The Oldsmar oval will open the gates at 10 a.m. on Friday and Saturday to simulcast the entire cards from Churchill Downs, site of Friday’s Longines Kentucky Oaks for 3-year-old fillies as well as Saturday’s Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands.
Programs for Friday’s Kentucky Oaks card will be available at 3 p.m. on Thursday. The following day, some Tampa Bay Downs betting windows will open 15 minutes before the first race at Churchill Downs, scheduled for 10:30 a.m.
Also on Friday, advance wagering on the entire Kentucky Derby card will become available at noon. Programs for the Derby card will be available at 3 p.m. Friday.
The approximate post time for the Kentucky Derby is 6:24 p.m.
Mint juleps will be on sale for $9 each on Derby Day in official Kentucky Derby souvenir glasses, while supplies last. Souvenir glasses ($6) and other Kentucky Derby gift items will be on sale throughout the week in the Gift Shop on the first floor of the grandstand.
Thoroughbred racing will be held at Tampa Bay Downs Friday through Sunday. The Thoroughbreds then will return to the Oldsmar oval June 30-July 1 for the third annual, two-day Summer Festival of Racing.
Sunday, May 3 is Fan Appreciation Day, with hot dogs, fountain sodas and domestic draft beers on sale for $1 each from noon-3 p.m.