Tyler Gaffalione was born September 12, 1994 in Davie, Florida, and is the son of long-time South Florida-based jockey Steve Gaffalione, and grandson of Bobby Gaffalione. The Gaffalione family moved to Davie, Florida when Tyler’s grandfather Bobby was hired by Stephen Calder to work on his farm.
Bobby rode more than 3,200 in a career that began in 1976. He rode Mr. Calder’s first ever horse at Calder Race Course. He had a very successful career as a jockey, including riding Rexon’s Hope in the 110th running of The Kentucky Derby in 1984, to a 10th place finish for Trainer Harold Rose. “That was pretty cool, and even more cool now that I followed in his footsteps and have ridden in the Kentucky Derby myself.”
Tyler’s father Stephen, also a jockey in South Florida, won more than 800 races in a 20-year career.
Tyler Gaffalione was born September 12, 1994 in Kansas City, Kansas. “My dad happened to be riding that weekend and I just happened to be born out there. But I was raised here in Davie, Fl.” Tyler grew up on a farm and was just four when he got his first pony. Growing up he spent a lot of his time on the backstretch of Calder, Gulfstream and Hialeah Park with his father Stephen, and spent summer vacations in Ocala. Tyler would ride on the track with his dad during morning works, and when he became a teenager, he started working horses on his own. He also spent a lot of time at the Rodeo in Davie in his younger years; “I did some barrel racing growing up, really enjoyed it, and was involved with the rodeo as much as I could.”
Tyler Gaffalione rode his first race on September 5, 2014 for trainer Charlie Fontana. “He was such a great man, so kind and helpful to me. He gave me my first job galloping horses for him at Calder and put me on my first horse. He was just so cool and helpful, and I’m eternally grateful to him.” That first race didn’t go as planned. “I was pretty clueless, broke last, stayed last and ate a lot of dirt that day”. He rode his first winner 2 days later in the third race of his career on September 7, 2014. “It was the last race of the card and my dad and I thought we had a good chance. (Laughing) I was still so clueless; we were all over the track. I was 3rd or 4th and took the lead turning for home. I drifted in a little bit but held off a horse that was closing on me and won by ½ a length. There was an inquiry and objection but thankfully I stayed up.”
I think it’s safe to say that Tyler Gaffalione figured things out fast. He won 28 races by the end of the year and then was voted the Eclipse Award in 2015 for Champion Apprentice Jockey, winning 217 times, including winning 5 races on May 3, 2015 at Gulfstream Park. He’s won several riding titles at Gulfstream and tied Jerry Bailey’s record by winning seven races on a single Gulfstream Park race card on June 30, 2018. In 2018 Tyler earned his first Grade 1 win aboard Salty in the La Troienne on Kentucky Oaks Day. Then 1 year later he teamed up with trainer Mark Casse to win the 2019 Preakness Stakes with War of Will.
“Actually, I called Jerry Bailey before the Preakness to get an idea of how he would ride the horse. We spoke about his thoughts, went over the race, we developed a game plan together, it was so special. Ever since then he’s been very helpful, telling me to call or text him any time. He was my idol growing up. I used to call him Jelly Belly because I couldn’t pronounce his name.”
Gaffalione started out 2020 in grand style. On Saturday January 4th he won 3 straight stakes races, The Glitter Woman, Ginger Brew and The Mucho Man Stakes. And he hasn’t slowed down. He’s currently 3rd in stakes wins with 8, 2 of them being Graded Stakes and 4th overall in earnings with more than $2 million.
Gaffalione also always finds time to give back. On the morning of January 5th Gulfstream Park held a Tyler Gaffalione Bobblehead day. Tyler came in a few hours early, before the races started, to take pictures and sign bobbleheads with his fans. He did this for almost 2 hours, with all the proceeds going to the Permanently Disabled Jockey’s Fund. “Obviously it’s for a great cause, something I care about deeply being a Jockey myself. Anytime I can help out I’m all for it. It was great seeing all the people come out and donate. The PDJF is a great foundation that helps so many people in need. It’s also pretty cool having your own Bobblehead. Mr. Barber, the owner of War of Will, agreed to let me wear his silks for the bobblehead image. I grew up as a kid collecting bobbleheads, so I was all for it. Mr. Barber & Mark Casse have been such a big part of my career as have many other owners and trainers. They’ve helped me out so much and given me so many opportunities. 3 of my 4 Grade 1 wins are with them. Like I said it’s all about meeting people and getting opportunities, and they both are great people. As a matter of fact, Mark Casse donated $1,000.00 to the PDJF so he could get the bobblehead numbered #1. All bobbleheads are autographed and numbered.”
This year Tyler and his girlfriend Casi are looking to buy a home in Kentucky. 2018 was his first time racing the fall meet at Keeneland & Churchill. “We had a really good meet there, I felt really comfortable there, the horseman and all the people are so nice and welcoming. After the Championship meet last year we went back up to Kentucky and stayed there most of the year, except during the Saratoga meet. We just fell in love with the area, the beautiful towns and farms. You could have a bad day riding at the track, and then just drive home, go back country, and it’s so beautiful, more my style. It’s easy to get over those days.”
I really enjoyed my time sitting with Tyler Gaffalione. He is such a nice and friendly person who has a smile on his face all the time. He always makes time for his fans, and I appreciate him making time for me. He’s a rising star with racing in his blood, and I wish him nothing but the best!
By Ed Cofino