Tuesday, April 7, 2020
In a profession where the roost is ruled by such stalwarts as Castellano, Rosario, Leparoux, Velazquez, Geroux, two Ortiz's, Saez, Lopez, and even a Smith, to name just a few, somehow the name Tyler Gaffalione doesn't seem to fit the mold.
But the South Florida product whose father, Steve Gaffalione, rode for 20 years in Miami, and whose grandpa, Robert Gaffglione, was an outright star in the formative days of Calder Race Course, has made a startling climb up the ladder in the world of riding thoroughbreds. All before reaching his 26th birthday.
First, why the last two Gaffaliones aren't named Gaffglione, like grandpa, is very simple. When Steve was born in a South Florida hospital, the nurse filling out the birth certificate mistook the 'g' for an 'a,' and presto, just that quickly the name Gaffalione was born.
Although most of today's South Florida racetrackers weren't around to witness the exploits of Robert Gaffglione, his impact on summer racing was dramatic. In 1971, when Calder made its debut amidst the controversy surrounding the synthetic Saf-T-Turf surface developed by William L. McKnight's 3M Company, Gaffglione was the track's first leading jockey, gaining fame as the rider of the fabulous Hickory Gray, a King Hairan filly with whom he seemed a perfect fit.
Campaigning from 1971 through 1974, she compiled a record of 18-9-8 in 50 tries with earnings of $104,193. Based on her record in stakes, if she was competing today Hickory Gray would be a millionaire. Gaffglione, one of the great gentlemen of the sport in his day, was content to take her off the pace in all her starts, and she closed like a gray comet to win seven stakes at Calder, adding three seconds and four thirds. He passed away at the age of 68 in December of 2004, when his grandson was only 10. According to Tyler, his grandmother kept all the Gaffglione-Hickory Gray newspaper stories of the 70s.
With his father as his teacher, Tyler began his career in 2014, just one year out of high school, and immediately experienced a good degree of success. He won his first race at Gulfstream Park on Sept. 7 in just his third try, and wound up the year with 28 victories and earnings of $563,582. He was 439th on the list of leading jockeys for the year.
From there, he made steady progress each year, winning with 217 mounts who earned $5,805,176 in 2015, shooting up to 33rd on the end-of-season list, and walking away with the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Apprentice Jockey. Then, in succession, he moved up to 28th in 2016, 12th in 2017, 11th in 2018, and 10th last year, during a milestone season highlighted by winning the Preakness for trainer Mark Casse with War of Will.
This year, Tyler has already moved into fourth place behind Eclipse Award winner Irad Ortiz Jr., winning 72 races aboard runners who have earned $3,621,572.
The current Gulfstream meeting began last Thursday and Tyler rode four winners on Friday, and three each on Thursday, Saturday and Sunday for a total of 13 and a lead of six over Luis Saez. Getting a price on his mounts has become quite difficult, and eight of the 13 winners paid less than $10, although every once in a while one slips through the cracks like Fancified, who paid $19.20.
Despite his youth, many of the country's leading trainers have been impressed with Tyler's patience, his keen sense of racing strategy, and his finishing ability, conjuring memories of many of the great riders of the past - Eddie Arcaro, Angel Cordero, Bill Hartack, Jorge Velasquez, Jacinto Vasquez, Jerry Bailey - and 2020 should be his shining hour.
Robert Gaffglione would be very proud.
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