Tyler Gaffalione — the 2015 Eclipse Award-winning apprentice rider who this year stamped himself as a major player on the national scene — is the recipient of JockeyTalk360.com's 2017 Breakthrough Jockey of the Year Award, presented by Betfair/TVG.
Gaffalione was selected by the panel of racing experts who vote on Jockey of the Week honors for JockeyTalk360.com, the website dedicated to promoting and celebrating the sport of horse racing by showcasing riders from across the nation and around the world. Jeff Lowich, TVG’s Director of Industry Relations, will present the Breakthrough Jockey of the Year Award to Gaffalione at the Dec. 12 awards luncheon of the annual Jockeys’ Guild Assembly sponsored by Betfair US at Las Vegas’ MGM Grand.
“One of the toughest things for a young rider is to keep momentum going after losing the apprentice weight allowances,” said C.J. Johnsen, editor of JockeyTalk360.com. “Tyler this year capitalized on his opportunities to emerge as a rising star in our sport. Kudos to Tyler and his agent, Matt Muzikar, for executing a thoughtful plan to take the young jockey to the next level, building his confidence as well as physical skills and mental acumen with the goal of being a top rider for a long time.”
This is the third year for JockeyTalk360’s Breakthrough Award, the past winners being Flavien Prat in 2016 and Florent Geroux in 2015. The JockeyTalk360 awards are in addition to the honors handed out by the Jockeys’ Guild.
The 23-year-old Gaffalione had truly a breakthrough season, winning 271 races — including 20 stakes — and more than $10.28 million in purses with a month still left in 2017.
“Tyler has obviously had an amazing year," Lowich said. "He has proven himself to be one of the top riders in the country, and it’s a privilege for Betfair/TVG to be able to present him with this award.”
Gaffalione had a fine post-apprenticeship year in 2016 with 208 victories and almost $6.5 million in purse earnings. But this year he made the significant leap to becoming a top rider outside what has been a year-round Florida base, riding two days a week at Saratoga and the five-day Kentucky Downs meet (winning a pair of $150,000 stakes) while still winning the Gulfstream Park summer-fall riding title. His five graded-stakes victories include the Fair Grounds’ Grade 2 Mervin Muniz Memorial with Enterprising, Turfway Park’s $500,000 Jack Cincinnati Casino Spiral Stakes (G3) on Fast and Accurate and Belmont’s Matron Stakes (G3) on Happy Like a Fool.
“I owe it all to my agent; he did a great job,” said Gaffalione, a third-generation jockey. “He’s given me the confidence, he hasn’t thrown me to the wolves, so to say, but just let me kind of transition to the stages, given me an opportunity to ride at other big tracks. It’s been a great experience, a great learning experience, riding at all different types of tracks. Matt did a great job planning the year. We’re trying to build to the future.”
Gaffalione also won Gulfstream Park’s sprint meet title and was third in wins during the track’s 2016-2017 championship meet. He rode in major races for trainers such as Mike Maker, one of his biggest supporters and who put him on his first winner at Saratoga; Wesley Ward, Shug McGaughey, Todd Pletcher, Mark Casse and Nick Zito.
Photos: Tyler Gaffalione is led into the Turfway Park winner's circle after the gray Fast and Accurate wins the $500,000 Spiral Stakes (Coady Photography). Gaffalione guided Enterprising (#1) to victory in the Fair Grounds' Grade 2, $300,000 Mervin Muniz (Lou Hodges Photography)