If you’re not a betting man and you don’t know your horseflesh, you've never heard of Tyler Gaffalione. But if you like a flutter, or even watch this sport of kings from afar, you should have heard his name. Gaffalione is hot stuff when it comes to riding the lightning on some of the fastest, most powerful beasts on four legs. Keeping up with family tradition Gaffalione is following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, both of whom raced as professional jockeys.
His grandfather took a mount in over 3,200 races, and his father won over 800 races in a career spanning 20 years. Gaffalione looks as if he has already eclipsed both to take the family crown. On July 4, 2017, he tied Hall of Fame jockey Jerry Bailey’s track record with seven victories in a day, and then on May 18, 2019, he won one of the legs of the legendary Triple Crown by taking the Preakness Cup aboard War of Will. We caught up with him to hear his thoughts on life, the universe, and horseflesh.
I’ve heard riding a real horse is like riding a very powerful motor-cycle—you think you’re in control, but you never really are.
In a way, yes. I read that horses can recognize human emotions. Horses learn to respond to commands issued from both the voice and visual signals. Racehorses start their training as yearlings, and some mature faster than others. My job as a jockey is to guide them, keep them focused, and hit the throttle coming down the stretch. That said, I am on a 900-plus pound animal with a mind of its own.
What is the sensation of man and horse flesh in perfect harmony? Is there a point where jockey and horse resonate?
It’s hard to put into words. When everything syncs to where horse and jockey become one, it is a fantastic feeling. Everything else fades away and blurs. All you feel is the air at 40 mph, and all you hear are the hooves hitting the ground. When it all falls into place, I feel like I am flying. On the flip side, every once in a while I get a horse who is a run-off and I hold on for dear life, hoping they guide me safely to the wire.
What makes a great horse?
There is no such thing as a bad horse. All thoroughbreds are bred to race. They embody athleticism. They have low body fat, excellent muscle tone, and a competitive heart. Great horses have great minds. Focus, determination, and the love of their job differentiates good from great. Breeders tell you that they bred the horse to win and trainers that their system makes winners. I let the horse do the talking. The cream always rises to the top.
When you aren’t riding or racing what are your favorite things to do?
I enjoy spending time with my family, golfing, time on the water, and our OTTBs (off the track thoroughbreds). As an ambassador of the sport, I think it is essential to take care of these majestic animals. Everyone associated with the game loves horses. The majority of my peers own or take care of OTTBs. It is a lifestyle, not a job.
How do you train physically, mentally, and nutritionally?
I have a personal trainer and work out three times a week. Mentally, I watch hours of race footage weekly. When I am not studying the competition, I analyze the great jockeys and their riding style. Knowledge is power. Nutritionally, I do my best to eat healthy meals and limit bad foods.
What are your goals as a jockey? What do you need to win to take off your silks, put it down and walk away with a smile?
I have been around racehorses my entire life. I love the sport, the people, and the equine athletes. Nothing embodies the spirit of horse racing better than the first Saturday in May. Winning the Kentucky Derby in a full field of the world’s best three-year-olds with the finest jockeys in the irons would be a dream. I am super competitive, and the Derby is something I want to add to my racing resume.
What will you do after racing?
Become a Maxim swimsuit photographer. Just half kidding…. I hope to walk away in good health and with a career that gets me into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. Horses are my life. I cannot imagine not being part of the sport of kings.