07/20/2016 12:10PM

Four-win night at Presque Isle propels Gallardo to 1,000 wins

Tom Keyser
Antonio Gallardo has been riding seven days a week, splitting time between Presque Isle Downs and Monmouth Park.

Antonio Gallardo went 4 for 5 at Presque Isle Downs on Tuesday evening to extend his lead in the rider standings to 19. The final win was his 1,000th in North America.

Gallardo’s career has been on the upswing for several years, but when he first came to the United States from his native Spain in 2008, things were quite different.

“I went to Miami, to Palm Meadows,” Gallardo said. “It was very hard. Nobody would even let me jog a horse.”

In 2009, Gallardo won seven races from 175 starts. This year, he already has 190 wins and trails national leader Jose Ortiz by five. In 2015, Gallardo won 320 races, second only to Javier Castellano, who won 344.

“My first three years in Miami, I was not doing well,” Gallardo said. “I almost quit. You work so hard, you don’t make any money. It was a lot of pressure.”

But Gallardo persevered and is grateful to the people who have helped him along the way – people like trainer Jennifer Vadgo in Spain, who bought him a ticket to the U.S. and convinced him to try it for three months; his friend Jorge Gomez in Spain, who when times were tough told him not to come home and then set him up with Florida agent Victor Centeno; and Centeno, who took Gallardo into his home and helped start his career.

Gallardo’s upward trajectory coincides with his teaming up with agent Mike Moran prior to the 2013-14 Tampa Bay Downs meet. They have since won the title at every meet they have ridden .

Gallardo has led the Tampa standings the last three years and set a record at the 2014-15 meet with 147 wins. Gallardo was the leading rider at Presque Isle in both 2014 and 2015, when he set a track record with 161 winners.

Moran rode more than 2,000 winners himself. He describes himself as highly competitive and said Gallardo is the same way.

“Whether I’m playing racquetball or shooting pool or whatever, I do everything I can to win,” Moran said. “That’s just me. Antonio loves to win, too. I rode for 20 years, and I was like that, and I like my riders to be that way, too.”

Gallardo, who turned 29 on Monday, agreed.

“I don’t like to lose. I don’t like second,” he said. “I want to win. Whether it is a claiming $5,000 or a stakes race, I ride the same.”

Gallardo is currently riding at Presque Isle Downs on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays and at Monmouth Park on Fridays and Saturdays. He has been splitting Sundays between Presque Isle and Monmouth, but he and Moran plan to focus more on Monmouth’s Sunday cards for the rest of the summer.

“In two months, I have had one day off,” Gallardo said.

Even though he is a part-timer at Monmouth, Gallardo is having an excellent meet in his first season at the New Jersey track. He is fifth in the standings with 21 wins and is 5 for 11 in stakes, tying leading rider Paco Lopez for the most stakes wins at the meet.

“Antonio is doing so well at Monmouth he wants to ride there next year,” Moran said. “This year, we’re putting in the time to build up our business.”

Even though it will not be easy, Gallardo also wants to win that national riding title for his wife, Polliana, and their children, Carlos, 8, and Christa, 2.

“I want to win the most races, but it is hard because with Tampa and Presque Isle, I have two months off,” Gallardo said. “Last year, I was 12 in front at the end of Presque Isle, but I finished second. It is hard to go to Miami or try a different track when you are only going to be there for two months. But I will keep trying.”