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Horse Racing, Kentucky Derby at The Downey Profile®

Up-and-Coming Gaffalione at KD


Plans to Ride Entire Meet

Tyler Gaffalione, one of horse racing’s rising stars, will ride all five days of Kentucky Downs’ unique all-grass meet offering the richest average daily purses in America.

From a family of jockeys, Gaffalione began riding in 2014 and has won at least 200 races the last three seasons, including 217 in 2015 when he won the Eclipse Award as North America’s outstanding apprentice jockey.

Riders often struggle after losing their apprentice’s weight allowances, known as the “bug” and which let their mounts carry less weight in order to encourage trainers and owners to use young, inexperienced riders. But Gaffalione's career has actually taken off. He’s already at 221 wins and $7.5 million in purses on the year.

“It’s been amazing,” he said by phone. “I’ve had a lot of help, though. Both my agents, before it was Walter Blum and now it’s Matt Muzikar, did great jobs. They work hard, and trainers have given me great opportunities. They continued to support me even after I lost the bug, and that’s the biggest thing. And just a lot of luck.”

Gaffalione won his richest race to date for Maker in taking Turfway Park’s Grade III, $500,000 Jack Cincinnati Casino Spiral Stakes on Fast and Accurate — the first day the jockey had ever ridden in Kentucky.

Maker, the two-time defending training leader, encouraged Gaffalione — along with New York-based Jose Ortiz — to ride at Kentucky Downs, with its projected $1.7 million average a day in purses and Kentucky-bred purse supplements.

Gallalione said his preparation for riding at Kentucky Downs has included watching the replays of races the past couple of years.

“It’s always been a track I’ve been interested in riding,” he said. “I like the European style, and my favorite surface, I’d say, is turf. It just seemed like a good opportunity. It’s definitely very exciting. That’s a lot of money to be giving away for 10 races a day. The stakes are high, and there are always nice horses coming out of there.”

Gaffalione says the closest he’s come to what awaits at Kentucky Downs is riding in pastures around Ocala, Fla. “But there were no rails to follow,” he said. “You just kind of did whatever.”

Riding at Kentucky Downs also fits into the plan of Gaffalione’s agent, Matt Muzikar, who has had Gaffalione stray out from his year-round Florida base to ride a couple of days a week at Saratoga and elsewhere. It’s worked well with Florida racing on a four-day race week stretch.

“We’re just trying to maximize all our opportunities,” Gaffalione said. “We’re trying to maintain our title down here, but in the meantime get familiar with some other tracks, riding for different trainers and owners. It’s just a good experience right now.”

Said Muzikar: “It’s a move to bigger and better things, we hope, as long as everything goes according to plan. I wanted him to experience all these different tracks and all these different things little by little and not all at once. Wanted him to just absorb it all, experience it all and learn. Because he’s 22, but he’s only been riding three years, so he’s a young 22 as far as riding. Even though 22 is young.

“He’s a great kid with a tremendous amount of potential. He knows when he does well. But he also knows when he screws up, which to me isn’t too often, and he tries to rectify the situation immediately. That’s what’s going to make him a very, very good rider for a long period of time. And he has great bloodlines as far as riding. T.D. Houghton (winner of 5,714 races) is his cousin. His dad rode, and his grandfather rode.”

Edited Kentucky Downs release

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