FERRIN PETERSON SHIFTING TACK TO LAUREL

Ferrin Peterson
Jockey Ferrin Peterson won four times on August 2 at Monmouth Park. Photo By Bill Denver/EQUI-PHOTO

Starting Friday, the latest chapter in the intriguing story of practicing veterinarian and aspiring jockey Ferrin Peterson will be written at Laurel Park.

Peterson, 28, is named in two of nine races when live action returns to Laurel Jan. 15. The California native has the call on One More Nightcap for trainer Patrick McBurney in Race 5 and Spanish d’Oro, trained by Hamilton Smith, in Race 9.

First race post time is 12:25 p.m.

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Maryland is the latest stop on a road that over the past few years has taken Peterson quite literally around the world. After quarantining as part of COVID-19 protocols, she began galloping horses Jan. 9 at Laurel.

“One of the nice things about Laurel is that it is year-round racing and that it is so centralized to so many tracks. So if I could take off here and make this my base, I’d be happy to,” Peterson said. “Who knows? We’ll see what happens.”

Peterson comes to Laurel by way of Aqueduct, where she rode during the fall meet that ran Nov. 6 to Dec. 6. Though the trip didn’t produce the on-track results she had hoped, Peterson came out richer for the experience.

“At Aqueduct they weren’t allowing jockeys on the backside in the morning, and so I knew it was going to be a reach getting my business going there but I really wanted to go for it and try,” Peterson said. “They kept thinking they were going to open up the backside to jockeys but as covid has continued delaying things, it seemed like it was pretty impossible to start business there with not being able to represent myself and see people face to face. So, I decided to make the move.”

Peterson said it was Ramon Dominguez, the Hall of Fame jockey who came to prominence in Maryland in the early 2000s, that first planted the seed of relocating to the Mid-Atlantic. She is represented by agent Simon Purdy, who also has the book for Weston Hamilton, the 2018 Eclipse Award winner as champion apprentice.

“I heard a lot of good things about Maryland for a while and always really admired their turf racing. When I was at Aqueduct, Ramon Dominguez had become a mentor of mine and so he told me if I ever considered moving to another track he would really recommend Laurel,” Peterson said. “He said it’s so well-respected and it’s very central to the other racetracks, which was one of the main reasons I moved to the East Coast in the first place and ideally, when covid’s over, be able to ride six, seven days a week.

“People were explaining to me that the best way to do that is to get your business going at Laurel,” she added. “It really started with Ramon saying that and then I met Katie Davis in the jock’s room at Aqueduct and she was speaking so highly about Laurel and the opportunities there and the horsemanship of the trainers.”

Peterson made her professional debut in February 2018 at Golden Gate Fields, riding while studying veterinary medicine at UC-Davis outside Sacramento, located about an hour north. She finished the year with 10 wins from 144 mounts at places like Del Mar, Golden Gate, Fresno and Oak Tree at Pleasanton.

“It was quite the challenge, with the commute and the work and everything. It was pretty crazy and pretty sleep-deprived, but I just had so much joy doing that,” Peterson said. “It just really kept me grounded in school to be able to keep riding and keep doing something that I was so passionate about. It just felt so right.”

Peterson, who served an externship in Japan touring Thoroughbred training centers, rehabilitation facilities and farms and attending the Nippon Derby as part of her undergraduate studies at Cal Poly San Luis Obisbo, had five wins from 96 mounts in 2019. 

“As school started drawing to a close, I’d been just a part-time jockey for the last two years and I thought, ‘Well, I’ve been able to keep my business going being my own agent and doing it part-time,’ but it was pretty unheard of,” Peterson said. “That’s what made me think, ‘What would happen if I actually did this full-time and had an agent?’ That’s what I decided to pursue, and I’ve never regretted it.

“Even with the hard times like Aqueduct slowing down, that doesn’t faze me because I know that’s just what jockeys have to go through,” she added. “So, I’m happy to push on and make it happen.”

Perseverance paid off for Peterson in 2020, winning 50 races from 335 starters with more than $1.6 million in purse earnings. Though she began the year as an apprentice, she lost the bug during a Monmouth Park meet where she finished second in wins to perennial champion Paco Lopez, 51-42, and won her first stakes race, the Sept. 12 Mr. Prospector, aboard Share the Ride.

Peterson followed up with eight wins during the three-week Meadowlands at Monmouth meet in October, tying Jose Ferrer for second in the standings.

“That was very exciting, and then to back it up with a second at the Meadowlands,” she said. “I was very happy with how my summer went and I’m hoping to just kind of continue the momentum.”

Before she launches her veterinary practice full time, Peterson is determined to pursue a riding career that has been a goal since she rode English style and dressage growing up in Roseville, Calif. and attending high school in Oakmont, where she set the school pole vault record.

“I just didn’t know growing up how to become a jockey and how to get connections at the racetrack. It was during vet school when I chose that avenue so I could become a racetrack vet and still work in horse racing,” Peterson said. “I started making connections. I was working at a Thoroughbred farm doing their [reproductive] work and breaking babies in the morning, and then I was able to get an exercise rider’s license and started going to the track. That’s really how it took off.

“I’ve been working part-time as a vet. I just want to be able to keep my skills up. I have enough time and flexibility with that. It’s still something I’m very passionate about, the medicine side of it,” she added. “But, really, my whole life growing up I wanted to be jockey. Now as an adult, riding horses is my greatest passion in life. That’s what I want to pursue first and foremost and have the veterinary medicine support on the side, too.”

Though she has yet to ride her first race at Laurel, Peterson said she already has a good feeling about her newest opportunity.

“Even just meeting the trainers for the first time, they’re very welcoming,” she said. “They kept saying as long as you have a good work ethic, people give people a shot here. So, that was really encouraging to hear.”

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