10/01/2016 11:30AM

Gallardo changes plans, will move tack to New York

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Tom Keyser
Jockey Antonio Gallardo

Antonio Gallardo, the leading rider in North America by wins (289) this year, was planning on taking his talents to the West Coast to begin riding at Santa Anita next weekend. But in an abrupt change of plans, Gallardo will instead start riding at Belmont Park next weekend with the idea of staying on the East Coast for the winter.

Gallardo, a three-time leading rider at Tampa Bay Downs, is about to wrap up his third meet title at Presque Isle Downs and was then heading to Southern California next weekend. On Friday, he changed his mind and retained the services of Matt Muzikar, who will represent him in New York and then in south Florida at Gulfstream Park.

"I think I can make it," said Gallardo, who will finish riding at Presque Isle on Thursday. "This is the right time. I'm hot, and he has the connections."

Gallardo is expected to start riding at Belmont on Oct. 9.

Muzikar was the agent for Javier Castellano for seven years until those two separated at the end of the Saratoga meet. Castellano has won the Eclipse Award for leading rider the last three years. Muzikar recently picked up Jose Lezcano, for whom he plans to continue working as an agent.

Coincidentally, Gallardo's 320 wins in 2015 were second only to Castellano's 344.

Gallardo, 28, said he felt more comfortable riding on the East Coast, where he knows more horsemen. In addition to his dominance at Tampa and Presque Isle, Gallardo was the fourth-leading rider at Monmouth Park with 48 wins and ranked second in stakes wins with nine.

In his Belmont Park debut last Saturday, Gallardo won two races, including the $125,000 Ashley T. Cole on Kharafa for Tim Hills.

Gallardo's change of plans came as a shock to Mike Moran, Gallardo's agent of three years. Moran on Friday was driving across the country to California to start booking mounts for Gallardo when he got the call from Gallardo.

"I thought we were really tight," Moran said from New Mexico. "I was taking him to California, and I thought he could be leading rider at Del Mar. Here's where you get to ride Derby horses that win and Breeders' Cup horses that win. I just think it was a great time to go, and I thought he felt the same thing – that's why I was driving here. I was so excited. I've been on the phone the last 48 hours making calls for him. Now, I don't have a job. I can't believe it."

Said Gallardo: "I'm supposed to feel super happy, I feel super bad. He was a great agent. We did a lot of good together. I need somebody to take me to the next level."