Mike Allen, who has been on both ends of enough photo finishes to know the score, had a quick quip for Samy Camacho after their mounts crossed the wire together in the first race at Tampa Bay Downs.
“I said 'You didn't get me this time, Samy,' ” Allen recounted after winning by a nose on 4-year-old filly Diva Chick for career victory No. 2,000, with Camacho and California Cotton second. “Samy has been on fire, so naturally you would have thought he would have run right by me.”
Diva Chick paid $5.40 as the wagering favorite after completing the mile-and-40-yard distance on the main track in 1:42.36.
In a sense, the milestone was a long time coming for the 50-year-old Oldsmar resident, who has ridden more than 100 winners in a year six times but averaged only 32 winners a year since 2010.
“I got hurt two years in a row – I broke my foot (in 2015) and dislocated my thumb (in 2016), and that slowed me down for a while,” Allen said. “But I just hung in there and kept going. A lot of riders don't make it to 2,000 – they retire or they get too heavy or they don't get lucky enough to find good mounts, which I've had to struggle with a lot in my career.
“This is right up there with the stakes races I've won (as an accomplishment),” Allen added. “It's a load off. I had three weeks last month when I hardly rode any horses, but that's part of the business. Things have started clicking, and I knew I'd get it here (before the meeting ended).”
Allen was joined in the winner's-circle ceremony by his wife, Lisa, and their daughter, Alexis, both pony persons at Tampa Bay Downs; winning trainer Dennis Ward and his wife, Jeanne; and his brother, four-time Tampa Bay Downs jockey champion Ronnie Allen, Jr., who has won 3,615 races. The elder Allen finished third in the race on Hola Princess.
Mike Allen's older son Garrett was on a work-related cruise. Younger son Connor is a high school freshman.
“It was like any other day for (Mike),” Lisa Allen said. “He really wasn't thinking about (2,000) that much.”
Ward, who has known Allen for more than 25 years, since their days competing in Washington state, might have been more excited than the jockey. “I love this guy. He gives you everything he's got,” said Ward, who climbed to 997 victories as a trainer with the win. “He's thinking all the time, and that's one of the main reasons I put him on.”
Diva Chick, who is owned by Ward's Ridenjac Racing outfit, had finished fourth under Allen in her previous start on March 31 on the turf. Ward outfitted her in blinkers this time, and Allen said that seemed to make a difference.
“When she saw (California Cotton) on the outside, she started digging in and giving me more,” Allen said.
Getting Diva Chick in that position was testament to Allen's experience and savvy, which can mean as much in a race for $8,000 claiming horses as graded-stakes competitors.
“During the post parade, it looked like (track maintenance) had bladed the track, so I thought the rail might be better,” he explained. “Around the first turn it felt packed down and hard, so I just chose to stay on the rail. That worked out well, and I just let her run her race the first part.
“I got through on the rail (on the turn for home), and she finished up good,” Allen said.
Allen plans to move his tack to Presque Isle Downs in western Pennsylvania next month.
Brother Ronnie won two races today. He won the fifth on the turf with West Coast Bias, a 5-year-old Florida-bred mare bred and owned by Glen Hill Farm and trained by Tom Proctor. Ronnie added the eighth on Marry Me Dude, a 3-year-old filly bred in Florida by Maria Bowersock and owned and trained by her.
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