Ronnie Allen, Jr., has that familiar feeling in his stomach again.
After being sidelined since Oct. 19 following a freaky accident at Presque Isle Downs in Pennsylvania, Allen is named to ride two horses Saturday at Tampa Bay Downs for trainer Maria Bowersock.
Ronnie Allen, Jr.
“I’m excited, and I’m nervous,” said Allen, who received a release from his doctor Monday to return to competition, about a month after he began working horses for Bowersock and trainer Tim Hamm. “My doctor tested my strength and range of motion and he said they’re a lot better than they were before, and that if I feel OK I should go ahead.”
After working four horses this morning for trainer Tim Hamm, Allen felt strong and fit and brimming with confidence that he is ready to compete. He plans to start with a few horses a day at the outset of his comeback, building back to a level where he can soon regain his standing among the leading riders at Presque Isle and, hopefully, next season at Tampa Bay Downs.
The current Oldsmar meet runs through May 7, Kentucky Derby Day.
Allen is named to ride Lady in Heels, a 3-year-old filly, in Saturday’s sixth race, a $25,000 claiming contest at a distance of 6 ½ furlongs on the main track. In the ninth race, a 1-mile maiden claiming race on the turf for 3-year-old fillies, he is named on Bowersock’s filly Libertalia; the race drew an overflow field of 13, and Libertalia and Allen would need another filly to be scratched to draw into the race off the also-eligible list.
One, or two, will do for now for Allen, who turns 58 on Sunday. He began galloping horses in March, 5 months after breaking five ribs, suffering a collapsed lung, dislocating his clavicle joint and tearing ligaments in his left shoulder in a post-race spill at Presque Isle that took place when his mount fell unexpectedly while galloping out after finishing third in the second race.
Doctors originally said he could return to race-riding in 6-to-8 weeks, but ongoing issues with his clavicle joint restricted the range of motion in his left arm, making it next-to-impossible to breeze horses, let alone compete in a race.
After undergoing steroid injections and five weeks of physical therapy, the four-time Tampa Bay Downs riding champion considered surgery. But as his pain gradually subsided during his return to morning workouts, he elected to postpone that option indefinitely, with the approval of his doctor.
“He said (riding races) shouldn’t create any more damage,” Allen said. “Surgery would put me out of action for at least another 3-to-5 months, but he said I don’t need it for now.
“I’d like to start riding again and let everybody know that I’m back, and hopefully it goes well enough that I can ride through the summer (at Presque Isle, where Bowersock, his fiancée, trains). I’ve just got to take things one day at a time.”
Allen, who has ridden 3,888 career winners, has long been one of the Oldsmar oval’s most popular jockeys. He won Tampa Bay Downs meet titles in 1984-1985, 1986-1987, 1987-1988 and 2010-2011. He is one of five jockeys to win the Grade II Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby and the Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes in the same year, accomplishing the feat in 1993 with Marco Bay (neither stakes was graded then).
Allen tied for fifth place in last year’s Oldsmar standings with 42 victories and was eagerly anticipating a spirited return when he was injured. ”This is home. I started my career at Detroit (in 1983), but my dad (retired trainer Ronnie Allen, Sr.) and I came here every winter. I was leading bugboy (apprentice jockey) here and just kept on coming back,” he said.
Support from other jockeys and horsemen heartened Allen in his bid to return to the saddle. “Everybody wants me to come back. I can’t tell you how many people have come up to me and said ‘Hey, when are you going to start riding?’ or ‘I’ve got some horses for you to ride.’ ”
Now they have the answer everybody was hoping for, and time will tell if Allen has a storybook comeback to deliver.
“It’s in my blood. What happened is just life in this business, and I have to deal with it,” Allen said.
Around the oval. Fernando De La Cruz rode two winners today. He triumphed in the fourth race on Schochoh, a 5-year-old gelding owned by Paula S. Capestro and trained by Renaldo Richards. De La Cruz added the seventh race on the turf aboard Marquet Malice, a 3-year-old Florida-bred gelding owned by Bra-Gar Stables and Hablan Los Caballos, LLC and trained by Antonio Machado.
Trainer Rafael Schistl sent out two winners. He captured the sixth race with Bold Paynter, a 6-year-old gelding owned by Endsley Oaks Farm and ridden by Ademar Santos. Schistl added the ninth and final race on the turf with Twisted Treasure, a 6-year-old Florida-bred mare bred and owned by Endsley Oaks Farm and ridden by Elione Chaves.
Thoroughbred racing continues Friday with a nine-race card beginning at 12:20 p.m. Tampa Bay Downs conducts racing each Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday through May 7, with the exception of Sunday, May 1, when the Thoroughbred action is limited to simulcasting..
The 2021-2022 meet officially concludes on Thursday, June 30, which is also the first day of the annual two-day Summer Festival of Racing.
Otherwise, the track is open every day for simulcast wagering, no-limits action and tournament play in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.