by Mike Henry

With 26 racing days left in the 2015-2016 meeting, Antonio Gallardo appears a virtual lock to win his third consecutive Tampa Bay Downs jockey championship.

The 28-year-old native of Jerez de la Frontera in Cadiz, Spain, who has gained a sizeable following here through his riding ability and friendly, outgoing personality, has booted home 108 winners, 44 more than five-time track champion Daniel Centeno.

Rounding out the top five are Ronnie Allen, Jr., 58; Fernando De La Cruz, 55; and Manoel Cruz, 33.

Gallardo, who plans to return to Presque Isle Downs in search of a third consecutive title at the Erie, Pa., track upon the conclusion of the Oldsmar meeting, is positioned to make a run at the Tampa Bay Downs record total of 147 he set last season. He is currently on pace for 149 (assuming he does not ride here the final day of the meeting on June 30, which is the start of the track’s two-day Summer Festival of Racing).

After finishing second in North America for total victories in 2015 with 320, 24 behind Eclipse Award champion Javier Castellano, Gallardo is currently second this year to Castellano with 75 victories, eight behind the Gulfstream Park-based superstar (at press time, Castellano was scheduled to ride four horses today at Sunland Park in New Mexico).

A good deal of suspense is gone from the trainer race as well, although many observers counted out Jamie Ness too soon last season before he won 28 races from his last 68 starters to overtake Gerald Bennett, 46-43.

Bennett has sent out 44 winners this season, 12 more than Ness. Kathleen O’Connell has 30 winners, followed by Dennis Ward with 18 and Dale Bennett and Arnaud Delacour with 17 apiece (seven of Delacour’s winners have been first-time starters).

Ness, who has won nine consecutive Tampa Bay Downs training titles (tying with Bennett in 2010-2011 and Kathleen O’Connell the year before that), has seen his number of starters here decline since splitting up with long-time client Midwest Thoroughbreds.

But that is not to detract in any way from the masterful job being done by Bennett, who recently won with five consecutive starters and trains one of the standout equines of the meeting in 4-year-old gelding Fast Flying Rumor, which earned a Tampa Bay Downs-record 108 Beyer Speed Figure for his Turf Dash Stakes victory on Jan. 9.

A further cursory analysis shows Bennett and Ness are 1-2 in winning percentage among trainers with 30 or more starters – Bennett at 26.67 percent and Ness at 26.23 percent.

The Florida-bred Fast Flying Rumor, which is likely to make his next start in the $75,000 Hilton Garden Inn/Hampton Inn & Suites Sprint on Florida Cup Day, April 9, is owned by the Winning Stables of Bennett and his wife Mary in partnership with the Midnight Rider outfit of Matt Ferris.

Winning Stables has posted 11 victories this meeting in various partnerships, but the official owner standings are determined by the entirety of each holding. Thus, Winning Stables is not among the top owners; the current leader in the owner race is the stable of Billy, Donna and Justin Hays. The husband, wife and son team has 12 victories.

Next are Rich and Karen Papiese’s Midwest Thoroughbreds and the Ness outfit of Jagger, Inc., with 10 each. Owner-trainer Jason DaCosta has nine and the Savoy Stable of John Santina has eight.

Chad Lindsay, who left last week for southern California, is the only apprentice jockey to have made an impact during the meeting. With 11 victories, he seems virtually assured of the crown.

Down the stretch. Angel Serpa rode two winners on today’s card. He captured the first race on Shupanga, a 3-year-old colt owned by Dennis Farkas and Ian Wilkes. Serpa added the ninth aboard Emmy Who, an 8-year-old mare owned by Billy, Donna and Justin Hays and trained by Joe Woodard, who now has 1,499 career victories.

In today’s seventh race, the 8-year-old gelding National extended his winning streak to three races, capturing the mile-and-40-yard claiming event by a length from Serdynski. Ridden by Dean Butler, National is owned by Tom Abrahamson and trained by Randy “Red” Rarick.

Thoroughbred racing at Tampa Bay Downs resumes Wednesday with a 10-race card beginning at 12:25 p.m. Tampa Bay Downs conducts racing each Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, with the exception of Easter Sunday, March 27.

Otherwise, Tampa Bay Downs 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.

The golf range will be open on Easter from 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.; the last bucket of dimpled eggs will be sold at 3:30 p.m.