Racing News


by Mike Henry


Antonio Gallardo

Gunning for his fifth victory on today’s card in the ninth race, leading Tampa Bay Downs jockey Antonio Gallardo made an early move on the backstretch on his 4-year-old filly Anasazi Lass to try to catch the front-runner, Key to the Highway.

“I knew that other horse would be very tough on the lead, and I had to move early to see if I could catch her,” Gallardo said.

Anasazi Lass stuck her head in front on the far turn, but rival jockey Victor Lebron summoned his mount’s energy and Key to the Highway reclaimed the lead at the sixteenth pole of the mile-and-40-yard event. Horses and jockeys dueled to the wire, and no one was certain of the result until the photo-finish camera determined there was no separation to be found.

The dead heat gave Gallardo his fifth victory from six mounts on the day. The track's all-time record is held by Richard DePass, who rode seven winners on a single card in 1980. It was the third time Gallardo has ridden five winners at Tampa Bay Downs, and he leads the Oldsmar jockey colony with 83 for the meeting.

Gallardo is on pace to ride 154 winners, which would break the record total of 147 he set last year.

“Sometimes I have a week when I only win one race, and I don’t like it, for sure,” Gallardo said. “But I forget it because tomorrow is another day and the next race is another race, so I try not to pay attention to anything else and give 100 percent every time.

“Both fillies worked hard, Victor worked hard and I worked hard. My filly gave me everything she had, so I’m happy for a dead heat.”

Gallardo, who has won the last two Tampa Bay Downs riding titles, started rolling today in the first race, winning aboard 5-year-old Florida-bred gelding Mr Thunder Boy for breeder-owner Vegso Racing Stable and trainer Dale Bennett. Gallardo captured the third race on 3-year-old filly Shea’s Cool for owners Tim Collins and N.H. Stone and trainer Forrest Kaelin.

In the fourth race, Gallardo and 3-year-old Florida-bred filly R Lucky Charm triumphed for owners Averill Racing, CCF Racing Stable, Silver Oaks Stable, Gregory Kaufman, et al and trainer Gerald Bennett. Gallardo then won the sixth on 8-year-old gelding Punster for owner Jagger, Inc., and trainer Jamie Ness.

Anasazi Lass races for her breeder, Ray Hanson, and is trained by Keith Nations. Key to the Highway is a Florida-bred owned by Six SandBaggers Stables and trained by Baltazar Galvan.

Gallardo said he felt pressure on a daily basis to win the title two years ago, when he overcame veteran Ronnie Allen, Jr., but the 28-year-old Spaniard has overcome that by far. “If you put too much pressure on yourself, you don’t enjoy your job,” he said. “After (winning his first title), I’ve been able to go out and enjoy my job every day.”

Leading Tampa Bay Downs trainer Gerald Bennett also won the seventh race with owner Ocean Breeze Stable’s 6-year-old gelding Bonetown Wild, which was ridden by Fernando De La Cruz.

Thoroughbred racing at Tampa Bay Downs resumes Thursday with a nine-race card beginning at 12:25 p.m. The track 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.

Lebron is Hilton Garden Inn Jockey of the Month. Victor Lebron took about six weeks off from race-riding when the traditional 2014-2015 Tampa Bay Downs meeting ended last May. His wife Ruth was expecting their fifth child, and Lebron needed time to rejuvenate from nagging injuries and the day-to-day grind.

Lebron returned on a full-time basis in July at Ellis Park and quickly made up for lost time, winning 17 races from 137 starters to finish sixth in the standings. He then won a combined 13 races at the Churchill Downs meetings in September and November, building momentum for his third season at the Oldsmar oval.

As if he needed extra incentive, Ruth gave birth on Nov. 9 to twin boys, Jayden and Akilies. The Lebron family now numbers eight, with four girls ranging in age from 3-12. “It’s a blessing of God, and I’m just enjoying every moment,” the 31-year-old Lebron said.

Those approximate sentiments have been shared recently by horsemen who have employed Lebron’s services, especially on stakes Saturdays. His victory aboard the 4-year-old colt Barbados in Saturday’s $100,000 Pelican for owner Suzanne Stables and trainer Michael Tomlinson was the jockey’s third stakes triumph of the meeting, the most of any rider.

Lebron, who is fifth in the Oldsmar standings with 23 victories, has been selected as the Hilton Garden Inn Jockey of the Month.

“The time I took off was great, because it refreshed my mind and my body, got me hungry again and back on my game,” said Lebron, who grew up in St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands and launched his career at Randall “Doc” James Racetrack before heading stateside to capture his first victory in 2005 at ThistleDown outside Cleveland. “Trainers are noticing that I’m riding good and I’m back to myself again.”

Lebron credits his agent, Joe Paulley, with handling the business end of his livelihood, allowing him to focus on winning races. In addition to Barbados, Paulley has hooked Lebron up with a pair of stakes winners trained by George “Rusty” Arnold, II: 4-year-old filly White Clover in the mile-and-a-sixteenth Wayward Lass Stakes on Jan. 23 and 3-year-old filly Weep No More in the mile-and-40-yard Suncoast Stakes on Feb. 13.

Both of the Lebron-Arnold stakes winners were 13-1 shots. Lebron said Weep No More took a major step forward in the Suncoast.

“I like that she finished hard,” he said. “She relaxed right out of the gate, and I just kind of eased her into the bit and guided her through there. She responded to everything I was teaching her. That was kind of the best part of it; to be a consistent stakes horse she has to be willing to learn, and she is. It’s just going to take her a little while to mature.”

Lebron made an ideal partner in the six-furlong Pelican for Barbados, a son of 2004 Eclipse Award Champion Sprinter Speightstown. The colt competed in the 2015 TwinSpires Breeders’ Cup Sprint, but never fired after developing a quarter-crack early in the week and being fitted with a bar shoe for the race.

“He’s a big, good-looking horse with a comfortable stride,” Lebron said. “He got going to a comfortable routine of his own in the race, and I kind of left him there. Mike (Tomlinson) had told me that when I least expected it, he was going to come running and give me that stride, and that is exactly what he did.”

Lebron doesn’t plan to take much time off this year. He is tentatively planning to leave here early to ride at Keeneland, then go on to the Churchill Downs spring meeting. “I want to stick with the business I have with Rusty and Mike and see if I can get a shot and find something for the (Kentucky) Derby (Presented by Yum! Brands),” said Lebron, who rode Frac Daddy in the 2013 Run for the Roses.

Lebron’s biggest challenge these days is getting enough sleep. There is rarely a dull moment with four young girls and the newborns to watch over, but Dad says everyone is pitching in.

“When one of the twins is asleep, the other one is up, and when he sleeps the other one is up,” he said. “They all help out because they know I have to work in the mornings and afternoons, but I do catch a little sleep in the jockeys’ room when I have a chance.”

Chaplaincy benefit golf tournament set. The Race Track Chaplaincy of America (RTCA) – Tampa Bay Downs Division will host its 24th annual “Hearts Reaching Out” golf tournament and fundraiser on Monday, March 7 to support the continued work of the chaplaincy. The tournament, which has a four-person scramble format, will begin at 11 a.m. at East Lake Woodlands Country Club in Oldsmar.

A dinner, awards ceremony and live and silent auctions will be held beneath the pavilion tent at Tampa Bay Downs afterward, with the dinner getting underway at 5 p.m. The cost is $100 for the tournament, dinner and auction, $20 to attend the dinner and auction only. Proceeds benefit the chaplaincy.

The event kicks off the track’s Festival Week, which culminates Saturday, March 12 with the most lucrative card in Tampa Bay Downs history, featuring the Grade II, $350,000 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby; the Grade II, $200,000 Hillsborough Stakes on the turf; the Grade III, $200,000 Florida Oaks on the turf; and the $100,000 Challenger Stakes.

Donors are asked to support the Tampa Bay Downs Division of the RTCA in any of the following ways:

  • As a volunteer;
  • By sponsoring a golf hole for $125;
  • By playing in the tournament;
  • By attending the dinner and purchasing an item in the live and/or silent auction;
  • By donating money or an auction item.

For details or to reserve a spot in the tournament, call (813) 494-1870 or (813) 854-1313.