What’s the story behind the newest addition to the Harrah’s Louisiana Downs jockey colony? Jack Gilligan has been one to watch since the meet began last month and his ear-to-ear grin in the winner’s circle is just a small part of his allure!
Through the first six weeks of the meet, the 23-year-old jockey has ridden 77 horses, with 21 wins, 14 seconds and 10 thirds. He’s currently tied with Joel Dominguez, who has been one of the top riders in Shreveport for the past four years.
Born in Newmarket, England, Gilligan’s father, Patrick, is a Thoroughbred trainer and it was not long before his son found a calling with horses.
“I was riding a pony from five on,” said Gilligan. “When I turned 13, I began exercising horses before and after school and on weekends.”
Gilligan was enrolled in the British Racing School at 14 years-old. He explained that he received one day off from high school each week to attend classes at the esteemed program for aspiring riders.
“We were taught every aspect of racing and caring for horses,” he explained. “It was a great foundation.”
He graduated in May, 2013 and two weeks later, at the age of 16, rode in his first race.
Interestingly, his father was born in New York, so with dual citizenship, Gilligan set his sights on a riding career in the United States. Just before he turned 18, he arrived in Lexington, Kentucky and began riding as an apprentice at Turfway Park. He was the third leading rider at Ellis Park and made the move to Louisiana for the 2017-2018 Fair Grounds meet. One of the horsemen who gave him some very good mounts was Bret Calhoun who entrusted him to ride Silver Dust. The victory for the son of Tapit, owned by Tom Durant in the 2019 Mineshaft at Fair Grounds was his first graded stakes.
His momentum was derailed on January 25 of this year when he was involved in a nasty spill at Fair Grounds, suffering at broken collarbone and seven facial fractures.
“I was out until the last week of the Fair Grounds meet,” said Gilligan. “I knew it would be hard for me to get mounts in Kentucky, so I stayed in Louisiana.”
His agent in Kentucky was Liz Morris, but in Louisiana, Gilligan is represented by veteran Richie Price. They were aiming for Lone Star Park, but the uncertainty of when their season would begin prompted Price to consider shifting to Harrah’s Louisiana Downs. The enticement of riding for leading trainer Karl Broberg was icing on the cake.
“He’s a nice kid and is making the most of this meet,” stated Price, who is also handling mounts for apprentice Kody Kellenberger. “Jack is gaining a lot of confidence here.”
Broberg who has been the North American trainer in wins since 2014, is enjoying his association with the young jockey.
“I heard he was contemplating options and I needed a rider,” said Broberg. “I’m very pleased with Jack; he puts his horses in the right position, and we are winning races.”
Personality-wise, you would be hard-pressed to find two more different personality types than the irascible Broberg and the optimistic and upbeat Gilligan.
“He’s hilarious,” acknowledged Gilligan when asked about Broberg. “No filter whatsoever and tells it like it is. But he is fully invested in our industry and I am lucky to work with his assistant, Kevin Martin here at Louisiana Downs. He does a great job!
Gilligan loves the history, culture and food in Louisiana and recently bought a place in New Orleans. Now, riding afternoons with heat indexes in the 100’s is another story!
“The first weekend (in June) I thought I was going to die,” he said. “I got some relief by dunking my head in the ice bucket even though all the jocks were laughing at me.”
But he takes it all in stride because the camaraderie in the jocks room is very special.
“I was a little worried about fitting in, but everyone has been very friendly,” said Gilligan. “I love the atmosphere in the room and got command of the Cajun accent when I was in the same part of the Churchill Downs jocks room with Calvin Borel. At first I didn’t understand half the words, but I’ve got them down now!”