Katie Davis finding her way in the mid-Atlantic
by Doug McCoy
Last fall jockey Katie Davis’ prospects for the future were, by her own admission, rather bleak.
The young rider, who won her first race in February 2014, was recovering from a concussion and other injuries suffered in a spill, her apprentice period was coming to a close, and she didn’t have an agent. After having won only 12 races in 2015 while trying unsuccessfully to establish herself on the tough NYRA circuit, 2016 was coming to a close and the rider simply didn’t know what to do next.
“The only thing I did know was that I wasn’t quitting,” Davis recalled recently. “I knew in my heart I was meant to ride, and as bad as things seemed at that time, I wasn’t giving up.”
Then one day near the end of last year’s Delaware Park meeting came a chance encounter with former jockey Joe Rocco, which Davis says was pivotal in turning her career around.
“I saw Joe at the track one day and asked him if he would consider taking my book,” Davis recalled. “I told him I promised him one thing, that I’d work as hard as I could and try and give every mount a chance to win.”
Rocco recalled the meeting, remembering he was impressed with Davis’ commitment to do whatever it took to establish herself.
“We talked and I asked her where she was living,” Rocco said, “and when she told me she was living close to Parx Racino in Philadelphia, I said if she wanted to ride at Laurel she’d have to drive from Philadelphia to Laurel and back most days. I asked her if she was sure she wanted to try and handle that schedule and she told me, ‘Mr. Rocco, if you think you can help me get some business and give me a chance to win races, I’ll handle the driving.’”
The retired rider, who won more than 3700 races during a long career that saw him ride until he was 51, says that even before he went to work for Davis, he had seen things in the daughter of former jockey Robbie Davis that made him think Katie had a real future.
“When you rode as long as I have and seen as many jockeys in races as I have, you see the little things that good riders do and I’d seen some of those things with Katie,” Rocco pointed out. “And she’s also shown steady improvement because now she’s getting more mounts and getting on more live horses. After you pass a certain stage as a young rider, you’ve got to ride more horses every day to get and stay in a rhythm. Katie’s at that stage now. I know agents are always pitching their riders but I really think Katie’s evolving into a good, solid professional.”
Davis, one of three of retired jockey Robbie Davis’ siblings who are presently jockeys (Dylan and Jacqueline are the others), said she’s starting to feel more comfortable during races and is learning to be patient and let things come to her. She won 17 races during the winter meeting at Laurel, including her first stakes victory aboard Next Best Thing in the $75,000 Conniver Handicap, and added 17 more victories at the summer stand at Laurel.
This summer she had her first mount at Saratoga — an event which took on extra meaning since she is a 2010 graduate of Saratoga Springs High School.
She also has nine winners at the Delaware meeting. The 25 year-old says that while the jockey colony is a highly competitive one, she also says Delaware’s leading rider Carol Cedeno has gone out of her way to give Davis advice and guidance.
“Carol’s a quiet person, but once we got to know each other, we talked more about riding and about life in general,” Davis said. “She’s been very good to me, and if there was ever an example of how hard work and dedication can bring success, it’s her career.”
This year Davis’ mounts have earn more than $1.4 million — the first time in her career she’s topped $1 million — and she has 51 wins heading into the final four months of the season.
“My goal is to win 100 races,” said Davis. “Winning 100 races a year seems to be the number a lot of people feel signifies a successful season. In the meantime I’m working to learn and refine my riding style. I’m working on trying to finish stronger and place my mounts where it gives them the best chance to win.”
And what gives Katie Davis the biggest kick?
“Lighting up the tote board,” she laughed. “I get an extra thrill out of winning on a longshot and seeing the board light up. To me that says, ‘Hey you were able to find something in that horse to make them respond that others couldn’t find.’”