Antonio Gallardo didn’t need to say a word to let it be known he felt right at home.
First came the victory, the one aboard Diabolic in the My Dear Stakes on July 31, then came the winning walk to the Woodbine winner’s circle, and then came the ear-to-ear smile.
He duplicated the feat – and same expression – the following day when he guided Queen’s Plate-bound Avoman to a score in the Plate Trial.
The jockey from Jerez de la Frontera, in Cadiz, Spain, who had just started riding at Canada’s Showplace of Racing, was in familiar territory.
“I like Woodbine,” said the 34-year-old. “I like it a lot. The racetrack, the facility, the people – everyone and everything is very nice. Obviously, I was very happy to have success in the Plate Trial and the day before with Mark Casse’s filly. They are two very good horses and it was nice to win with them.”
Winning races is nothing new for Gallardo, even if it didn’t start out that way nearly 13 years ago.
Although didn’t hit the board when he launched his life in the irons in the U.S. with a single mount on New Year’s Eve in 2008, success would soon come.
A modest seven-win campaign in 2009 was followed by seasons of 41, 31 and 42 victories.
It was in 2013, however, when Gallardo established himself as a rider on the rise, his confidence and win total hitting stride simultaneously.
With the first 100-win campaign (101, to be exact) in the U.S. under his saddle, business and opportunities flourished, with one of the highlights coming aboard 14-1 Flatter in the 2013 Challenger Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs.
Gallardo has excelled in the Sunshine State over the years.
To date, he counts five riding championships at Tampa, and is the track’s single-season record holder with 147 winners, established in 2014-15.
He also has four riding titles at Presque Isle Downs, where he took the 2018 and 2019 editions of the Presque Isle Downs Masters Stakes (G2) aboard Hotshot Anna.
But his successes don’t end there.
Gallardo has finished in the top six in races won in North America in five of the last six years, including second-place finishes in 2015 and 2016. He has nine graded stakes on his resume, highlighted by Chad Brown trainee Funtastic’s triumph in the 2018 running of the Grade 1 United Nations at Monmouth Park.
He’s even made headlines off the track.
After an interview with a reporter from Fuera de Serie, a lifestyle and leisure supplement found in Spain’s El Mundo newspaper, Gallardo became the first athlete to grace the magazine’s cover since soccer megastar Cristiano Ronaldo.
Now, Gallardo will look to become front-page racing news at Woodbine. He likes what he sees.
“The track gives you three different courses, which I like. The turf [E.P. Taylor Turf Course] with the long stretch, it teaches you to be patient, the Inner Turf, it’s about speed and you have to be close. I’m very happy with the way things have gone so far.”
It might be enough for Gallardo to shed the nomadic ways he’s known over the past few racing seasons.
Setting up shop at Woodbine for the long-term might not be such a longshot.
“My goal is to try and see how I do this year and if all goes well, to come back next year. I really like it. I’m tired of moving my tack everywhere and travelling so much. I think Woodbine is perfect for me – riding in one place eight months of the year. I want to work hard, find good horses, and make the most of my opportunities. If things go well in the next few years here, maybe the other four months I can just relax with my family, go on vacations, something like that. Who knows? I don’t know yet. I try to go with the flow and see how things play out. But I do like the idea of racing eight months at one track, and to not travel so much.”
Regardless of where Gallardo finds himself or what career choices he has made and will make, he knows he’ll have the support of those closest to him.
FaceTime with his family, currently living in Florida, is a daily routine. He also keeps in touch with his parents, Antonio and Paqui, who live in Spain.
“My family has always been there for me,” said Gallardo, who was joined by his wife Polliana and the couple’s children, Carlos and Christa, when he achieved his 2,000th win in his 9,807th start, this February at Tampa Bay Downs. “Being a jockey is a tough life and a tough job, but they make it easy for me to focus on what I do. They inspire me every day.”
That inspiration is one of many reasons Gallardo is off to a hot start at Woodbine.
“I approach every race the same way. I do as much homework as I can on my horse so that I can give them the best chance to win the race. So far, things have gone really well here. I’m very happy.”
It’s what happens, smiled Gallardo, when you feel right at home.