OLDSMAR — Antonio Gallardo walked out of the jocks' room and headed for the parking lot. Not far behind was Ronnie Allen Jr.
Seldom has there been much ground between the two riders, who are engaged in the closest battle for a jockey championship in the past decade at Tampa Bay Downs.
Gallardo vs. Allen. Who will wear the crown?
Gallardo holds a 107-103 lead in wins. Seven days remain in the meet, including a June 30 card in the Summer Festival of Racing.
Gallardo and Allen will be at Presque Isle Downs in Erie, Pa., when the Downs holds its final program.
Both said they would consider returning if the title remained up for grabs. Gallardo has a home in Palm Harbor, and Allen resides in Tampa.
Gallardo, 26, has never been a leading rider. Allen, whose 50th birthday was Thursday, is seeking his fifth championship at the Downs, his last came in 2010-11.
"I bet it's been a while since the (jockey race) has been this close," Allen said. "It feels good just to do good. Leading rider is a bonus."
Only twice in the past 10 years has the Downs top rider won by fewer than 10 victories.
The average win margin for a champion has been 29, topped by Daniel Centeno's 81-win advantage in 2007-08.
Gallardo and Allen are the first riders to surpass the century mark in victories at the same meet within a 10 year span.
This season's duel is reminiscent of the 2003-04 meet, when Jesus Lopez Castanon captured his first career title by winning eight races in the final three days to edge T.D. Houghton 87-82.
Gallardo has overtaken Allen with 13 victories on the past six programs.
"I have a lot of confidence and know that I'm doing good," Gallardo said.
"A lot of trainers (at the Downs) have helped me a lot, and I have a good agent (Mike Moran)."
Gallardo, a native of Cadiz, Spain, is in his second season at the Downs. He had a super summer at Calder in Miami Gardens where his defining moment came Aug. 29 with four stakes wins on the same card, three for Downs conditioner Kathleen O'Connell.
"He listens and is very good with the babies," O'Connell said. "I think he has a great career in front of him. He's a hard worker. There's no one that deserves (the title) more than him."
Allen, a native of East Liverpool, Ohio, said he began to believe another title was possible in late December when early leader Fernando De La Cruz was sidelined with a broken wrist.
"De La Cruz was on fire," Allen said. "After he got hurt, I said, 'Oh man, I might be No. 1.' Then Gallardo picked up a lot of (De La Cruz's) mounts and came flying at me."
Downs leading trainer Jamie Ness marvels at Allen, who won two stakes this meet for conditioner Tom Proctor.
"He's a very talented guy," Ness said. "(Winning) is hard to do at 40 or 30, let alone 50. I think it's remarkable."