After Yearly ‘Grind’ Jockey Mike Allen Hits 2,000 Career Victories

Mike Allen isn’t given to waxing nostalgic about his 32-plus years as a jockey, even after his 2,000th career victory Friday at Tampa Bay Downs unleashed a flood of memories.

But the reaction from family, friends and horsemen helped him put the magnitude of the achievement in perspective.

“I had one trainer say, ‘What percentage of jockeys do you think have gotten to 2,000?’ and I had no idea,” Allen said. “I knew (2,000 winners) was a big number, but I just didn’t really think about it.

“It’s exciting. We went out to dinner with friends and family to celebrate, and it was pretty cool. I’ve had a lot of people congratulate me, and it feels good to have that many people acknowledge what a feat it is.”

Allen reached the two-century mark in Friday’s first race on Diva Chick, a 4-year-old filly trained by Dennis Ward and owned by the conditioner’s Ridenjac Racing outfit.

The victory took on added meaning today when Allen, who is tied for 13th in the track standings with 16 victories, was selected as the Señor Tequila Mexican Grill Jockey of the Month.

A victory Sunday on 4-year-old gelding Little Leo for trainer David Fisher was the 50-year-old Oldsmar resident’s fourth from his 10 most recent mounts, sewing up the honor.

Such recognition is welcome, but Allen and the vast majority of jockeys at tracks across the country aren’t in it for the plaudits. “It’s in my blood,” is Allen’s plain, straightforward way of saying he’ll likely be around the racetrack, one way or another, for as long as he’s able.

“A lot of my career has been a grind, year after year after year,” said Allen, who rode 100 or more winners six times from 1993-2007 but has averaged 39 a year since 2008. Injuries, including a broken foot and a dislocated thumb in recent years, have been a factor, along with the inability to connect with a top agent and the barely perceptible decline that affects all but a handful of top riders.

“My body is fine. I still get on a lot of horses in the mornings, and that keeps me strong and fit,” said Allen, who won a state wrestling championship at Hazel Park High in Michigan as a sophomore at 103 pounds. “I never get tired in the afternoons, but it’s hard to keep my weight down when I’m only riding two or three horses because I’m not sweating as much.

“It’s really a tough jockey colony here every year,” Allen added. “You have leading riders from everywhere and even if it’s at smaller tracks, it doesn’t matter; they’re all good riders. And a lot of them come here with different stables, so you’re knocking your head against the wall trying to get into some of those barns.”

Still, Allen perseveres, his roots established deep in the sandy Oldsmar oval. His wife of 28 years, Lisa, and their 24-year-old daughter Alexis pony horses to the gate in the afternoon while they plan for a move soon to western Pennsylvania for the upcoming Presque Isle Downs meeting.

“The only thing about being 50,” he mused, “is that my kids are all grown up now.”

Not quite, exactly: 14-year-old son Connor is a high school freshman, and Garrett, 19, sells home security systems door-to-door in Virginia. “He’s doing great – he just has a knack for it,” Dad said.

The next step, when that inevitable day arrives? “I’ve thought about going to stewards school, or being an agent, or possibly training. Who knows?” Allen said. “It’s most likely going to be around the track.”

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