Racing News


by Mike Henry

Gallardo with trainer Kathleen O'Connell and Margo Flynn

For a couple of minutes late Saturday afternoon, Antonio Gallardo looked like the loneliest person at Tampa Bay Downs.

As the stewards debated whether to disqualify Gallardo and his mount, 5-year-old gelding Silver Halo, after a claim of foul by second-place finisher Jose Angel Garcia on Abu’s Dream, Gallardo stood alone against the outside rail, watching the replay over and over on the big screen in the infield.

When the stewards ruled that the contact between the horses had been incidental, Gallardo pounded the rail in exultation and thrust his arms skyward. The victory was No. 145 for the 2014-2015 meeting, a new single-season Oldsmar oval riding record.

He increased it to 147 with two victories on Sunday.

On a day when American Pharoah justified his favorite’s role in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands; trainer Bob Baffert solidified his reputation as Master of the Thoroughbred Universe; and Victor Espinoza became the sixth jockey to win back-to-back Run for the Roses, Gallardo again stole the spotlight before a festive crowd of 10,379.

The two Tampa Bay Derby runners to contest the Kentucky Derby, Oldsmar winner Carpe Diem and fourth-place finisher Danzig Moon, finished 10th and fifth, respectively.

Back home, the first person to congratulate Gallardo with an embrace was fellow rider Daniel Centeno, the five-time track riding champion who rode 144 winners during the 2007-2008 meeting.

“I was very happy about that, because he’s taught me a lot. He’s my friend, and he is very professional,” the 27-year-old Gallardo said afterward. “And he knows I have learned a lot from talking to him and watching him, so I think he was happy for me.”

With the current season’s title clinched weeks ago and back-to-back titles last year at Tampa Bay Downs and Presque Isle Downs in Pennsylvania under his belt, Gallardo has won three consecutive meeting titles. He will go for four in a row at Presque Isle.

Gallardo’s record-breaking triumph on the Blackacre Farms-owned Florida-bred Silver Halo came for another friend and mentor, trainer Kathleen O’Connell, who saddled three winners today. O’Connell stuck by the Spaniard after he went 73-for-755 in 2011-2012, and she legged him up on three of his four stakes victories at Calder in Miami on an August day in 2013, a feat Gallardo considers a turning point in his career.

“I wanted to break the record for everybody I rode for today, but to break it for ‘K.O.’ (O’Connell) was very emotional for me,” Gallardo said. “When I was down on the floor, she helped me a lot. And my agent, Mike Moran, has worked hard to help me get here.

“It’s very important to me,” he added. “There are not too many jockeys from Spain riding here, and I’ve got records now here and at Calder, so it feels great.”

O’Connell, who also used Gallardo when she earned her 1,500th career victory here two years ago with This One’s for Mel, was visibly emotional after the winner’s-circle presentation.

“I was praying (during the inquiry), I really was,” she said. “Antonio has been such a big part of the team for us, and he’s a helluva person and a helluva rider.

“He’s relentless in his work ethic. I don’t care if there is one horse to breeze, he comes out for whoever’s horse it is,” O’Connell said. “I don’t think he ever had a day off at Presque Isle last year while I was there. He was there every morning, even on dark days and non-racing days.

“He is very astute at studying horses and films, and he is just a wonderful person to work with,” she added. “He has always had the skill, but in this business, horses make the jockeys and horses make the trainers. When we were lucky enough to win a few races here a couple of years ago, people started noticing him.

“I am glad to be a part of this record-breaking performance. One day, he won’t be here on Derby Day,” O’Connell said. “He’ll be in Kentucky.”

Gallardo broke alertly on Silver Halo in the mile-and-a-sixteenth event, kept him inside and repulsed a stretch-long challenge from Abu’s Dream to reach the winner’s circle. “I always try to give everything I have, and my horse fought back when that other horse came to him and never quit,” Gallardo said.

O’Connell also won the second race with 3-year-old colt Ore and the seventh race with 4-year-old colt Early Entry.

Luis Figueroa, a 19-year-old jockey from Puerto Rico, extended his lead to 14-12 from Janelle Campbell in the battle for leading apprentice at the meeting by winning on Florida-bred Ore, who is owned by his breeders, Mary and T. Wynn Jolley.

Early Entry is owned by Tommy Roberts Racing Stable and was ridden by Ronnie Allen, Jr. The four-time track champion also won the eighth race on the turf on 5-year-old gelding Gray Beau for owner Elaine Vinson and trainer John Vinson.

Jockey Keiber Coa returned to action six weeks after breaking his left collarbone in a spill, riding four races on the card. The son of retired great Eibar Coa finished second in the fourth race on Vivacious Annie and third in the third on He’s a Miracle.

“It felt great to be back, but I’m really exhausted,” Coa said after riding in the 10th and final race. “Riding back-to-back races twice made it even harder, but I know the only way to get really fit again is to ride races.”

Coa headed to Delaware Park after Sunday’s card. “I healed up pretty quick, and surgery to insert two plates in my shoulder helped me get to today. This is what I needed starting back, and hopefully (Sunday) I’ll feel even better,” he said.

Sunday is Fan Appreciation Day, allowing Tampa Bay Downs management, staff and horsemen to recognize the ongoing support of its followers throughout the track’s 89th anniversary season.

A 10-race card begins at 12:40 p.m. This is the final weekend of the 2014-2015 meeting, which officially ends on Tuesday, June 30 – the first day of the Oldsmar oval’s third annual, two-day Summer Festival of Racing, which concludes July 1.

Hot dogs, fountain sodas and domestic draft beers are on sale Sunday for $1 each from noon-3 p.m.

Today’s “Cut the Cash” raffle to benefit Thoroughbred Retirement of Tampa, Inc. (TROT) collected $1,701. The winner received half of the pot. The winning number was 24558N.

Tampa Bay Downs 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.