Davis took out an exercise riders license at 16, and after graduating from Saratoga High in 2011, headed off to jockey school in Lexington, KY. His older sister, Jackie, was a member of Chris McCarron’s North American Racing Academy’s inaugural program. She graduated with an associate degree in equine science in 2008 and is presently plying her trade very successfully at Suffolk Downs.
“I didn’t do the full two years,” Davis said. “I completed the equine studies, but skipped the last part. That’s when students freelance for trainers at the Kentucky Training Center. My dad thought it would be better for me to come home and learn from trainers here. I was all for that – saves me rent! Dad is introducing me to lots of people; many of the best trainers are here and I’m getting on horses for some of them. It’s so exciting, especially coming out of the gate. Every day I’m watching top jockeys ride; I get to work horses beside some of them. I’m looking, listening and learning all I can. I am having so much fun,” said Davis.
How fortunate it is for an aspiring rider to enjoy this kind of tutoring, especially with most of it coming right from home. Dylan’s father, Robbie Davis, was a top rider for 20-plus years, during which time he visited the winner’s circle 3,382 times. He won many of the most prestigious races the game has to offer and was the go-to jockey for some of the best trainers. He’s been on the ballot for the Hall of Fame and all of us who remember his skills as a jockey know he deserves to get his plaque. No one better understands the physical and emotional dangers jockeys face every day. He was vehemently opposed to his daughter Jackie’s decision to become a jockey, but once she made her case, he and all the family supported her. Now it’s time for Dylan’s ship to sail and the family’s blessing is there once again.
Robbie has educated Dylan about the perils some jockeys go through to maintain their weight. When asked about his own eating habits, Dylan, a natural light-weight, replied thoughtfully, “I try to eat healthy foods and stay away from sugary drinks like sodas. I’m working hard on my strength and flexibility.”
Asked who he was galloping for, young Davis replied. “I get on horses for Glenn DeSanto, Dave Appel, David Figueroa, Bill Allyn and Wesley Ward.” The renovation break was over. Davis apologized and rushed to make his next appointment.
I took this opportunity to ask Ward about the young rider. “First and foremost he is a gentleman; his dad was one of the best. He has the right breeding-looks like a million dollars on a horse and just as soon as his dad gives him the green light, I’m going to ride him. I think he’s ready now, but Robbie wants him to get more experience. He knows what’s best; he has the wisdom.”
Wesley Ward has his own share of wisdom. In 1984 he was honored with the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Apprentice Jockey, following a season in which he won riding championships at Aqueduct, Belmont and the Meadowlands. He went on to compete at racetracks in Italy, Malaysia and Singapore before weight gains forced him to retire in 1989. Ward has since made his mark as a trainer, just as his pedigree suggested. His father, Dennis, was the leading apprentice jockey in New York in 1962-63 and later became a successful trainer. His grandfather on his mother’s side was the highly skilled and hugely admired NYRA outrider, Jim Dailey. In 2009, Ward became the first U.S.-based trainer to ship to Ascot and win not one, but two races at the prestigious meet, proving he was a heady guy, whether wearing a riding helmet or a top hat!
When I asked Robbie about Ward’s jockey days, he smiled broadly and said, “Oh yeah, I used to drive him to the track – he was too young to get a driver’s license when he came to New York... He didn’t care much for my music, wanted to know if I had any newer tunes. The Conway Tweedy, George Straight stuff wasn’t cutting it with him – just so happens I did have a brand-new cassette; you see, I was just starting to date a new girl. I popped in Madonna’s “Lucky Star” and we immediately just started singing, ‘Star light, star bright...’”
That girl was standing beside Robbie this morning. Through thick and thin, Robbie and Marguerite have been a team for all of these years. They have six children, with Dylan being the youngest. Robbie and Wesley rode together for five to six years. It excites all of us to look down the pike; meanwhile, Dylan listened to Ward’s instruction, took his leg-up, carefully tied his knot and headed off to the main track. He looked professional, sitting handsomely astride the big bay colt. I watched the young rider finesse his mount and after backtracking, turn to gallop him gracefully to the pole and execute a well-timed half-mile work. I jumped in in my car to catch Dylan at his next stop.
Jack Wolferseder was holding his tacked up horse when Dylan arrived. Again, Davis listened intently to the trainer’s instructions, accepted a leg-up and weaved his way through the backstretch to the Oklahoma Training Track.
How did you come about putting him on your horse, I asked Wolferseder. “Early in the spring I noticed him; I thought jeez, that rider looks just like Robbie Davis.” We laughed and Wolferseder went on to say, “He’s quiet and sits a horse nicely. We’ve become like peas and carrots. He’s such a genuine kid, well-raised. He’s doing a marvelous job. I tell him to be patient and he listens; he waits and looks for seams.”
After Dylan jumped off Nugget of Wisdom, rinsed his bridle, put the tack away and shared his ride with Wolferseder, I was able to quiz him a little more. Which riders do you most admire, I asked. Dylan smiled and said, “Oh, I like a lot of them - Joel Rosario, Julien Leparoux and Rosie Napravnik are some of my favorites. Rosie is a real thinker, she outsmarts the boys sometimes.”
Do you think you will be a better rider on the dirt or on the turf, I asked. Without hesitation Dylan answered, “I think I’ll be primarily a dirt rider; that’s where most races are run here (New York), but I’ll ride the turf whenever I can.” This kid just wants to ride!
About spare time Dylan said, “I like to relax at home. I keep my focus on riding. I take quick bicycle rides and every now and then get on the dirt bike. I used to race them; it’s a little like horse racing, except bikes always go where you point them.”