For two days, Antonio Gallardo tried to ride through the pain in his right knee. But after finishing second aboard 4-year-old filly Olendon in his sixth assignment on May 30 at Tampa Bay Downs, he knew the risk of doing more serious damage demanded he seek medical attention.
The diagnosis wasn’t really a surprise: a small fracture that would heal with rest and treatment. The 32-year-old jockey has set his sights on returning to action at Monmouth Park in New Jersey, which starts its 75th season on July 3.
“I’m using laser therapy and a lot of ice and swimming in the pool,” said Gallardo. “I’ll have to decide what to do after I see the doctor again on June 24, but I’m trying hard to be ready for that first weekend.”
Gallardo will head to Monmouth with his fifth Tampa Bay Downs riding title in seven seasons. He rode 122 winners during the 2019-20 meeting, 23 more than six-time champion Daniel Centeno, who has moved his tack to Delaware Park. Last year’s champion, Samy Camacho, in third place with 96 winners, is at Gulfstream Park.
Gallardo, who has also won four titles at Presque Isle Downs in Erie, Pa., holds the Oldsmar single-season record of 147 victories, set during the 2014-15 meeting. The product of Jerez de la Frontera in Cadiz, Spain has ridden 1,916 winners in the United States, finishing second in the country in 2015 and 2016 with 320 and 332 victories, respectively.
“Every title feels good. My first one (2013-14) was really special, because I remember how slow I started in this country and how good it felt to break out,” Gallardo said. “But when you win one or two titles, the difficult part is staying on top. The only way you stay there is to try your best every day and be good to everybody.”
Although he did not win a stakes race here this season, Gallardo’s day-in, day-out consistency helped him surpass Camacho for the track’s money-leading crown. His mounts earned $1,626,842, $4,592 more than Camacho, who won the Grade II, $400,000 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby on March 7 on King Guillermo.
Gallardo’s 22.8-percent strike rate was also best among all jockeys with 10 or more mounts. On Jan. 19, he rode five winners on a Tampa Bay Downs card for the fifth time, and he tied a track record on April 29 by teaming with trainer Shug McGaughey on three victories.
“It was weird that I didn’t win a stakes, but you can’t be greedy,” said Gallardo, who won five stakes during the 2018-19 Oldsmar meeting and has eight career graded-stakes victories, including the Grade I United Nations Stakes in 2018 at Monmouth on Funtastic. “Every season is different with new jockeys and new trainers, and I feel good with what happened.
“I’m thankful to the trainers and grooms and exercise riders who help me, and to my agent, Mike Moran, for getting me on good horses. And everyone at the track who has done a real good job dealing with (COVID-19).”
Gallardo, who lives with his wife, Polliana, and their children – 11-year-old Carlos and 6-year-old Christa – on a nearby farm, has felt the effects of the coronavirus pandemic beyond his profession and home life. His parents, sister, grandmother and numerous other relatives live in Spain, one of the countries hardest hit by the virus.
“That has made it a rough time not only for me, but for a lot of people,” said Gallardo, who visited his homeland last fall. “I worry about my family staying safe and wish for everyone to be responsible because (the virus) is still here.”
Putting the brakes on a career, and a lifestyle that brings one into contact with top Thoroughbred owners and trainers, isn’t easy for a world-class jockey. But Gallardo plans to take his next steps with confidence once he receives medical clearance and is able to compete at 100 percent.