Dylan Davis Making A Name For Himself
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL - He will always carry the name that comes with being the son of a famous jockey. But in his first winter at Gulfstream Park, Dylan Davis is making a name for himself.
The 19-year-old Davis is leading all apprentice riders at the Champions meet with 15 wins. The only names ahead of him going into Thursday's program were Javier Castellano, the two-time defending champion; Paco Lopez, who won back-to-back titles in 2010 and 2011; Luis Saez, who won 12 graded stakes in 2013, including the Travers (G1) and Clark Handicap (G1) with Will Take Charge; and Joel Rosario, Gulfstream's second-leading rider last winter.
Davis is the youngest of six children to retired rider Robbie Davis, who won 3,382 races and nearly $116 million in purses from 1982 to 2002 in a career spent primarily on the New York circuit of Aqueduct Racetrack, Belmont Park and Saratoga Race Course.
“I know it’s going to be tough, but it’s another reason why my dad wanted me to come down here, so I could learn more with the better riders," Dylan said. "Even though it’s going to be tough, I’ll be learning a lot more than I would if I had stayed up north.”
Robbie Davis and his wife, Marguerite, settled not far from Saratoga Race Course, on an 80-acre farm in Middle Grove, N.Y., where Dylan was raised. His sister, 26-year-old Jackie, preceded him as a jockey, establishing herself as one of the leading riders at Suffolk Downs in Boston. Another sister, Katie, made her riding debut on Dec. 26 at Aqueduct.
A wrestler and competitive motocross rider in high school, Dylan initially had no designs on following in his father’s footsteps.
“I was into dirt bikes first, and I had to get a bigger bike. He didn’t want me to get too far into that,” Davis said. “I couldn’t touch the ground, and he had to lower the suspension. I’d get into a bigger class with bigger jumps and everything. He thought it was too dangerous.
“I think it’s as dangerous as horse racing; it’s pretty close. You’re going faster and going over jumps, and you can fall just like racing. Once I said I wanted to become a jockey, he was a hundred percent behind me. He just wanted it to be my idea.”
Davis got a reminder of how dangerous the sport can be when he was involved in a two-horse spill on Dec. 28 that earned him a trip to the hospital and left him with a bruised left leg. Davis returned to ride the next day. “I rolled and opened my eyes and saw one horse fall over me. I saw the whole underside of the horse,” Davis said. “I’m lucky everything is good.”
After attending retired Hall of Fame jockey Chris McCarron’s North American Riding Academy, Davis rode the first two races of his career on Aug. 5, 2012 at Saratoga, his hometown track. His first victory came the following month, on Sept. 29 aboard Soldier Sam at Suffolk Downs.
In 2013, Davis was the leading apprentice at Churchill Downs’ spring meet with 16 wins and finished the year with 124 wins and $2,767,393 in purses from 881 mounts.
“I started freelancing when I had just come out of the jockey school. My father did rounds with me at Saratoga to introduce me to a lot of trainers,” he said. “He wanted people to get to know me. He introduced me to Wesley Ward, and they had a lot of good stories about how my dad was driving him to the track when they were riding. My dad helped Wesley out so much, he wanted to get me started. I left the 8:30 break open especially for him. Right before the break, I’d stop to see if he had anything, and he liked that a lot. I’ve worked with him ever since.”
The Eclipse Award-winning apprentice of 1984 who was forced to retire in 1989 with weight issues, Ward has been Davis’ biggest supporter. In the boyish-looking Davis, Ward sees the same talent, determination and class that defined his father’s career.
“A lot of it, yeah,” Ward said. “I rode with his dad as a jockey and his dad is a very humble, very nice, very hard-working guy. I think his parents did an unbelievable job to raise this little fellow the way they did. You just root for this guy to succeed. At the end of the day, the big thing is the horses run for him and he’s winning races. I think he’s going to continue to get better and better.”
Davis continues to draw on his father’s expertise as his riding career blossoms.
“Every time I ask questions, he’ll say I rode a good race or, if I do something wrong, I tell him to watch the race and he’ll give me support,” Davis said. “It’s good that I have my father behind me. I do have a lot of people that will help me out, but I go to my father first. He rode with the top jockeys, [Jorge] Velasquez, [Angel] Cordero, [Laffit] Pincay, all those big guys.”
Ward feels that Davis has the potential to rival his father’s career, which included 131 graded stakes, 30 of them in Grade 1 races.
“I think he’s a future star,” Ward said. “He’s just an unbelievable kid, well-mannered, hard-working, seems to be very focused and driven and knows what he wants to get done and accomplish. He’s one of those guys that you just root for, as I do, and I hope he continues on. He’s from a wonderful family. His dad was a champion jockey, so he’s got the bloodlines. I hope he continues to have all the success that he deserves.”