05/19/2017 9:40AM

Morales set to take top spot at Presque Isle Downs meet

Tom Keyser
Pablo Morales finished second in the Presque Isle Downs' jockey standings the past three seasons.

As Presque Isle Downs launches its 10th season of racing Sunday, kicking off a 100-day meet, who is poised to become the new dominant rider now that Antonio Gallardo has departed after leading the standings for the last three seasons?

The most logical answer is Pablo Morales. Morales, a 28-year-old native of Lima, Peru, was a distant second to Gallardo in each of the last three years after sharing the leading-rider title at Presque Isle with Huber Villa-Gomez in 2011 and finishing far ahead of the competition with 130 winners in 2012 and 119 victories in 2013.

Morales, third in the recently concluded winter meet at Tampa Bay Downs with 74 winners, figures to be greatly in demand at Presque Isle in Erie, Pa., where he is named on mounts in six of the eight races on opening day and six of eight on Monday.

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But keep a close eye on former Maryland rider Luis Garcia, who won a career-high 201 races in 2005. He has ridden sparingly in 2017, going 2 for 16, and not at all since April 1. But the 32-year-old Garcia has nine mounts on the first two days of the meet, including seven for trainer Gerald Brooks, who tied for third in the 2016 Presque Isle standings with 23 wins.

Entries were plentiful for the first two cards, with 80 horses for eight Sunday races and 75 runners for Monday’s eight-race card, which includes the season’s first stakes, the $100,000 Tom Ridge for 3-year-old sprinters.

Presque Isle will offer the same 12 stakes as last year, all worth at least $100,000. The marquee events remain the Grade 2, $400,000 Presque Isle Masters, for fillies and mares going 6 1/2 furlongs on Sept. 18, and the $200,000 Presque Isle Mile on Sept. 17.

Live racing will be held Sundays through Thursdays until the meet ends Oct. 5, with first post at 5:25 p.m. Eastern.

Two additions to the facility are a barn that houses the local Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association offices and 40 stalls, bringing total stall capacity to 740, and the permanent installation of a Jumbotron video board in the infield. The board was available for major stakes in 2016 but will be used on all live racing dates this season.

Sunday’s nominal feature is a $28,000 allowance for 3-year-old fillies or older females seeking their second victory. The six-furlong race drew a full field of 12, plus an also-eligible. The prime contenders include Porridge, who is a nose shy of owning a three-race winning streak at Turfway Park; Tulsa Queen, the winner of the Mrs. Henry Paxson Stakes last September; and Sky Flower, a three-time winner coming off a troubled second in a high-priced optional claimer at Arlington Park.