Big Season Pushes Gaffalione toward 2000th Win

Gaffalione celebrating aboard Wonder Wheel following her GI Breeders' Cup win | Horsephotos

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To the casual observer, it might appear that success has come fast and early to Tyler Gaffalione, who has yet to see the dawn of his 30th birthday. As of Dec. 7, Gaffalione has registered 1,997 wins with career earnings of just over $113 million. That's pretty heady stuff, especially for a 28-year-old. However, don't let that fool you because the young horseman has already packed a tsunami of sweat and tears–not to mention good old fashioned hard work–into a life still very much in progress.

I've had great people surrounding me,” he said. “I've had a lot of support throughout my life and I'm just so thankful because they helped get me to where I am today.”

Success appears to have always been in the cards for Gaffalione. Blessed with a rider's pedigree courtesy of his father and grandfather–former jockeys Steve and Bobby Gaffalione–he demonstrated his riding prowess early.

“My father, my grandfather and my cousin are all jockeys,” he explained. “So, I pretty much grew up in racing and spent a lot of time around the racetrack. I used to go to Calder frequently. I fell in love with horses at a very young age.

He continued, “We moved to Ocala when I was about eight or nine and spent quite a few years there. My dad trained some horses and he was also galloping there, so I started to go to work with him. When I was 10, he started letting me pony with him. I started galloping after that and when I was 11, I'd gallop in the morning before school and in the summers.”

Having grown up in Davie, Florida, the Kansas City native made his mark early in his career in the Sunshine State, collecting his first career win at Gulfstream Park in September of 2014. While still toting his bug status, he won a pair of stakes at the Hallandale oval in 2015, also enjoying a banner day that spring when winning five races on a single Gulfstream card. He rounded out the 2015 racing season by earning an Eclipse Award as the champion apprentice jockey.

Quickly becoming a fan favorite on the Southern Florida circuit, he tied jockey Jerry Bailey's 19-year-old record by winning seven races in a single card at Gulfstream in 2017 and quite notably, amassed over 200 wins in his first three full seasons in the saddle. Coincidentally, it was the Hall of Famer who Gaffalione had tied with at Gulfstream that had proven so important in giving him the blueprint to his own bourgeoning career.

“I watched Jerry Bailey and Garrett Gomez a lot growing up,” he said when asked who influenced his riding style the most. “Even now, I'll call Jerry and get some tips that I can apply to my riding.”

Riding high after rounding out 2018 with his 1000th career victory at Gulfstream that December, he returned the next year to collect his first Classic victory with War Of Will (War Front), trained by one of Gaffalione's biggest supporters, Hall of Fame trainer Mark Casse.

While those sparkling credentials could surely stand on their own, the horseman enjoyed a season for the ages in 2022. Knocking on the door of a win during the World Championships with seven prior top three finishes, he finally broke through in 2022, annexing the GI Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies with D.J. Stable's Wonder Wheel (Into Mischief) on the Friday card.

“It couldn't have happened on a better filly or for better connections,” he said. “Especially that my first [Breeders' Cup] win came with Mark Casse. He gave me my first Grade I win [on Salty in the 2018 GI La Troienne S.] and my first Triple Crown win and now my first Breeders' Cup win. He gives you all the confidence.”

Wonder Wheel, winner of Churchill's Debutante S. in July, finished second in Saratoga's GI Spinaway S. but bounced back to take the GI Darley Alcibiades S. before her Breeders' Cup score. Gaffalione has been aboard all five of the dark bay's starts.

“She just didn't really break running,” he said of the championship-defining race. “Normally, she shows a lot of gate speed, but that day she was just a little flat. It took a little bit for her to get underneath herself. We wound up being farther back than I anticipated.”

He continued, “Going into the first turn, we got pushed back and we got over to the fence. She wanted to do some running, but she came back to me nicely. Spots just kept opening up when we needed it and she took every single one of them. If you look at the overhead view, you could see at about the three-eighths pole and I was still kind of checking on her, but she wanted to run. As soon as the spots opened, she didn't hesitate. She was just full of heart.”

Not short in praise that has been lavished upon what can only be described as a perfectly executed and well-timed ride, Gaffalione remains steadfast in his modesty.

“She is a tremendous filly,” he said. “I think anybody could have ridden her that day because she gives you all the confidence. I love her.”

On Breeders' Cup Saturday, Gaffalione returned to add a second victory to this year's haul with a score by longshot Caravel (Mizzen Mast) in the GI Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint.

“It was such a blessing,” he explained. “My agent [Matt Muzikar] and I have put in such a huge amount of work to get to that point. It's something that I have wanted to accomplish for a while. It's definitely been a fun experience. I've been enjoying myself.”

In 2021, Gaffalione's mounts amassed over $19.2 million, which seems impressive enough. That is until you look at this season, which has yet to be completed, where his tally weighs in at a healthy $26.6 million. Could a second Eclipse Award be not too far in the offing?

“That would be a dream come true,” he admitted. “I always wanted to win an Eclipse Award. We were fortunate enough to win one as an apprentice, but [to win one] as a Journeyman would be a whole other story.”

He concluded, “Coming into this season, [Muzikar] and I just wanted to ride in the most races we can and get on as many as we can on each day. The way I see it, it betters your chances of winning and it doesn't hurt to have the experience. I have a long way to go [in my career], but I am happy with what we've accomplished up until now.”

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