Antonio came to Miami when he was 19. He carried a few bank notes in his pocket and a bag full of hope. Photo: Antonio Gallardo
"To me, it is an out-of-this-world experience. You have to control a horse at breakneck speed in less than 90 seconds. Just imagine! What an adrenaline rush!" Photo: Antonio Gallardo
"I have won over 1500 races but I want more. I want to see how far I can go." Photo: A.Gallardo.
Antonio Gallardo, an equestrian star in USA
In Jerez, they used to call him ‘El Pecas’. Now, in USA, they refer to him as ‘Antonio Banderas on horseback’. Antonio Gallardo (Jerez de la Frontera, 1987) has become one of the world’s top jockeys. His success can be quantified: 30 million dollars in prizes and 1500 victories.
Antonio came to Miami when he was 19. He carried a few bank notes in his pocket and a bag full of hope. He wanted to be a successful horse rider, but he got a job as a stablehand to make a living.
He did not give up, though. He made the ‘American dream’ his own. He had his own horse made of wood for practise. It was on this beast-machine that he improved his riding skills and techniques. When he was given his first big opportunity, he hung on to it. One victory led to another… and now he is a real star. People take selfies with him and ask him to sign autographs wherever he goes.
- Antonio, you are one of the world’s top jockeys. You have won about 30 million dollars in prizes and participated in 7750 races, coming first in 1523 of them. How can someone achieve something like this?
- With hard work and dedication. In my case, this has been the result of a lot of work, a lot of effort, a lot of sacrifice: family, work, moving from one place to another… With time, little by little, it bears fruit.
- You did not have an easy start in horseracing in USA, did you?
- No, I did not. But I thank God for this. When things are difficult to get, when you look back and see the effort and the sacrifice, achievement tastes much sweeter.
- Could we say you are the living image of the ‘American dream’?
- Definitely. Many people come here in search of the ‘American dream’. I have been one of them! At first, the dream is like a mirage… You wonder if it is really there… But then you realise it is true. Everyone can make it here. You just have to work for it. And I do not just mean in my trade. I have friends in different areas who have come to USA and have succeeded here.
- Where does your passion for horses and horseracing come from?
- I would say it runs in my blood. I followed in the footsteps of my grandfather and my uncle. When I was a little boy, they used to take me to the races in Sanlúcar. It was there that I realised I liked horses. The problem was, my mother did not like the idea of me being a jockey, so I went for show jumping instead. From 9 to 15, I trained as a rider in this discipline, but then I joined a stud farm to learn how to ride a horse for a race.
- Horseracing is not that popular in Spain. What is a race like to you?
- To me, it is an out-of-this-world experience. You have to control a horse at breakneck speed in less than 90 seconds. Just imagine! What an adrenaline rush! I really enjoy it. To me, it is not a job. It is more like a hobby, my passion. And this is great, for I get paid for doing what I love! [Laughs.]
- Before leaving for USA, in 2006, you had a serious accident at La Zarzuela Racecourse…
- That is right. I fell during the race and the mare ran over me, breaking my liver and a few ribs. The risk goes with the sport. It is the only sport in the world where an ambulance is required at the track. This means something…
We wear very little protection and we ride at great speed. We know that, if we fall, the odds are against us: we will probably get a broken bone or something… But, to tell you the truth, when you get on the horse, you do not think about this. The passion you feel makes you forget about the danger. You just enjoy. You do not think about what might happen to you.
- In USA you are a celebrity, as horseracing is a sport that has a lot of fans and moves a lot of money. Why do they like horse races so much?
- I do not know! [Laughs.] In USA they have over 200 racetracks, thousands of jockeys and a veritable passion for horses. It is a million-dollar business. Horse racing is tough, but it is open to everybody. I am doing the same I would be doing in Spain, only earning four times as much money!
- Did you have to adapt your riding style?
- Of course I did. The European style is quite different from the American version. Here appearances matter. They want to see a jockey that is in harmony with the horse, bent over the saddle. Also, they like it fast. They are always looking at the stopwatch and the tracks are super flat for the horses to gallop as fast as they can.
In Europe, the tracks have slopes and the straight stretches are longer, so you have to slow down, take your time. Here you cannot wait for the horse to speed up at the turn, you have to be in full speed before.
- After so many achievements, do you have any dreams you would like to come true?
- Well, this year I made one of my dreams come true. I have come top of seven statistics, been second-placed by number of races won in USA twice, won Grade 3 and Grade 2 races, but I had never won a Grade 1 or Grand Prix race. This year, this dream came true: I won a fine Grade 1 race in New Jersey.
And now what? Keep racing, keep winning, adding more Groups to my prize list, earning myself a place at the Kentucky Derby… I have won over 1500 races but I want more. I want to see how far I can go.