by Mike Henry

Salt Rock Tavern Jockey of the Month Antonio Gallardo has been to a lot of places in his quest to be recognized as a jockey worthy of riding high-quality stakes horses.

After finishing fourth with 37 victories during the 2020 spring-summer meeting at Monmouth Park, Gallardo was hopeful of making a run at a riding title at the track he’d competed at since 2016. But when the New Jersey Racing Commission issued rules prohibiting the use of the whip during a race except for safety reasons, Gallardo was among a number of jockeys who decided to stay away.

That debate is a subject for another time, but in the case of Gallardo and other top riders who decided Monmouth might produce more headaches than opportunities, there was no shortage of options. Having been approached previously by Woodbine-based agent Tom Patton – who formerly represented six-time Sovereign Award-winner Eurico Rosa da Silva, now retired – Gallardo decided the Toronto track would be a great place to spend much of his summer and fall.


Antonio Gallardo

But not all of it. From early July though late November, Gallardo worked in his own private time zone, riding at Presque Isle Downs in Erie, Pa., Monday through Wednesday, then making the three-hour drive to Toronto to compete at Woodbine Thursday through Sunday.

It’s a pace that sounds tiring – to just about everyone except the 34-year-old Spaniard, who rode a combined 2,818 races in 2015 and 2016 in an effort to finish atop the North American victory standings. He was second both years, with 320 winners in 2015 and 332 in 2016, and finished sixth or higher five times from 2014-2019.

While he has won four titles at Presque Isle Downs, he had never been based at Woodbine until this year, and he was eager to soak up all its grandeur and history. He also showed his stuff to an appreciative fan base north of the border, winning a pair of stakes on trainer Mark Casse’s 2-year-old filly Diabolic, taking the Display Stakes on 2-year-old colt Hicksy and capturing the Plate Trial Stakes on 3-year-old gelding Avoman.

“I won a lot of races there (51, good for sixth in the standings), which surprised me because when you’re in a new place you don’t really know anybody,” said Gallardo. “I rode a lot of big races, and I won some big races. That kind of competition is good, because it makes you a better rider. You feel more comfortable when you have good riders around you.”

Gallardo also rode 45 winners at Presque Isle Downs, finishing second to fellow Oldsmar rider Pablo Morales.


Antonio Gallardo delights his backers with another trip to the Oldsmar winner's circle, aboard Ghostlore after today's second race

Woodbine and Presque Isle Downs both utilize synthetic Tapeta Footings main-track surfaces, so that helped with his adjustment. Perhaps more than that, the realization he was at a track with so much history gave him a feeling he was in the right place.

“I like (Woodbine) a lot,” Gallardo told the track’s Communications Staff in August. “The racetrack, the facility, the people – everyone and everything is very nice. My goal is to try and see how I do this year and if all goes well, to come back next year.”

On Woodbine’s mile-and-a-half E.P. Taylor Turf Course, the importance of staying patient was driven home. “If you don’t have room, the stretch is so long that you have time to figure things out. But if you move too early, there is no way you can win,” he said.

As much as he enjoyed Woodbine, Gallardo is a family man first and foremost, cherishing the time he spends with wife Polliana and children Carlos and Christa on their family farm. Tampa Bay Downs has been a great place to practice his craft: with five titles in the last eight years, he is one shy of tying Daniel Centeno and Mike Manganello for the most in track history.

With a quick start at the current meeting (17 winners from 77 mounts, including 2-for-2 today), Gallardo earned the Salt Rock Tavern Jockey of the Month award. The competition has never been stronger: besides Centeno, his rivals include defending champion Samy Camacho, Fernando De La Cruz, Pablo Morales, Jose Ferrer, Hector Rafael Diaz, Jr., and Jesus Castanon.

A winner of 10 career graded stakes, including the Grade I United Nations Stakes on Funtastic in 2018, Gallardo spends hours watching race replays, seeking any edge he thinks will put him on top in a race.

“Some horses are nervous, and those are the kind of horses you have to try to use good hands on and stay calm and relaxed early so they can give you that explosion at the end,” he said. “Some horses you watch are lazy, and you have to be aggressive from the beginning.”

With 2,172 career victories entering 2022, Gallardo’s dedication and willingness to go anywhere to compete suggest he has even more room for improvement.

Around the oval. Gallardo won on a pair of maidens today. He won the second race on Ghostlore, a 4-year-old gelding owned by Anita Ebert Racing and trained by Ian Wilkes. Gallardo added the fifth on the turf on Watch the Music, a 2-year-old gelding owned by Rocket Ship Racing and trained by J. R. McGaughey.

Jockey Isabelle C. Wenc, who works for trainer Michael W. Wright, enjoyed a successful Tampa Bay Downs debut, winning the seventh race on the turf on 5-year-old mare Call Her Joey. Wright trains the winner for owner Gina Wright. A product of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, the 27-year-old Wenc rides primarily at Woodbine and Fort Erie in Canada. She has 60 career victories.

Thoroughbred racing continues Saturday with a 10-race card starting at 12:14 p.m. Do not be alarmed if all of your favorite horses have aged a year in the program, as all Thoroughbreds celebrate their “birthdays” on Jan. 1 for record-keeping purposes.

Tampa Bay Downs races on a Wednesday-Friday-Saturday-Sunday schedule, with the exception of Easter Sunday, April 17, when the track is closed. Otherwise, the Oldsmar oval is open every day for simulcast wagering, no-limits poker action and tournament play in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.