Two seasons ago, Antonio Gallardo rode a 3-year-old first-time starter named Imperial Hint to an eye-opening victory in a 7-furlong Tampa Bay Downs allowance in a sizzling time of 1:22.39. The Luis Carvajal, Jr.-trained Florida-bred colt lowered that time to 1:22.15 in his next start with Gallardo in the irons, the Florida Cup Ocala Breeders' Sales Sophomore Stakes.
“That is the dream of every jockey every year, to have a nice horse like that,” said Gallardo, who watched Imperial Hint race to a second-place finish in the TwinSpires Breeders' Cup Sprint last month under Hall of Fame jockey Javier Castellano. “In this game, you stay positive because you can find a good horse anywhere.”
The 30-year-old Spaniard, whose meteoric rise upon moving to the United States resulted in three consecutive riding titles at both Tampa Bay Downs and Presque Isle Downs in Erie, Pa., has shown a knack for winning all kinds of races, including five graded stakes the last two years.
But while Gallardo's quest to secure another “big horse” continues at full speed, he's a devoted family man who strives for the right balance between his professional and personal lives.
Gallardo's early-meeting Oldsmar performance, with 17 victories, has earned him the SenÞor Tequila Mexican Grill Jockey of the Month Award.
When the 2017 season at Presque Isle Downs in western Pennsylvania ended in early October, Gallardo, his wife Polliana and their two children, Carlos, 9, and Christa, almost 4, traveled to his hometown of Jerez in Cadiz, Spain for about a month to visit his relatives.
Gallardo's ambition to be known as one of the world's best jockeys hasn't changed. But the pull of home, both in Spain and Tampa, helps charge his batteries to succeed on the track.
“That (traveling to Spain) helped me a lot. My family is real close, and I was able to have fun with them and forget about the horses for a while,” said Gallardo, who got to visit his parents, his sister, his grandmother and other relatives. “If one of us is crying, everybody is crying, and if one of us is happy, everybody is happy.
“It was good for me mentally and good for my muscles and my bones. If I have a chance to go next year, I'm going again,” he added.
After riding in New York last season, where he finished seventh in the 2017 winter meeting standings at Aqueduct with 19 victories, Gallardo has returned to his home away from Spain on Florida's west coast.
Gallardo, who finished second in North America in victories in both 2015 and 2016, riding 652 winners during that two-year period, recently bought a home on a farm a few miles from Tampa Bay Downs. The property includes a seven-stall barn, several paddocks and a riding arena.
Gallardo said the reasons he has returned to Tampa Bay Downs are “simple. It's my home, my family is here and the weather is good. I was making more money in New York, but I wasn't as happy.
“As a jockey, you risk your life every day. Yes, you have to make money, but you have to have fun and enjoy your family. Money comes and goes, but when time leaves, it never comes back to you.”
Gallardo finished third in the Monmouth Park standings this year with 50 victories. On Dec. 16, he won the inaugural $125,000 Florida Thoroughbred Breeders' and Owners' Association Marion County Florida Sire Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs on 3-year-old gelding Mo Cash with a bold move between rivals on the turn.
Among his five graded-stakes victories is the 2016 Grade II Nashua at Aqueduct on Hemsworth. He also won the $400,000 (ungraded) Poseidon Handicap last winter at Gulfstream on Imperative on the Pegasus World Cup Invitational card and finished fifth on War Story in the $12-million Pegasus.
It appears Gallardo's next major assignment is a matter of “when,” not “if.” Whoever it happens to be with, the connections can rest assured their jockey will know the way home.
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