07/11/2012 3:01PM

Suffolk Downs: Seven female jockeys riding at same track

Barbara D. Livingston
Jackie Davis, above, is chasing Tammi Piermarini in the Suffolk Downs rider standings.

Jockeys’ locker rooms are known for concentrating competitors in a tight space and asking them to get along. This season at Suffolk Downs, seven female jockeys – including the top two jocks in the standings – are squeezed into the same space.

Tammi Piermarini sits in her now customary spot atop the standings after winning the last three riding titles. Jackie Davis is tied for second after six weeks. She finished second in the standings here last season.

Andria Terrill, Ashley Yodice, Natalie Turner, and Jackie Falk are also competing and veteran Jill Jellison is back in action with new agent Eric Estevez after missing the 2011 season.

When Vicky Baze was riding at Suffolk last month, the women’s jocks’ room contained the fourth-, fifth- and sixth-winningest female riders of all time and three of the top four active women jockeys. Piermarini, fourth with 2.129 wins; Baze, fifth with 2,098 wins; and Jellison, sixth at 1,856 account for more than 6,000 wins together, and Piermarini entered Wednesday just eight wins behind Patti Cooksey for third on the all-time list behind Julie Krone and Rosemary Homeister.

For Piermarini and Jellison, riding successfully and being accepted on equal terms is old hat. For Davis, 25, the daughter of a successful former New York jockey, Robbie Davis, the experience is new and exciting.

“I never expected to find a spot like this where everybody is so accepting of female riders,” she said. “It’s let me hone my skills. I think it’s because of the work of women like Tammi and Jill who pushed through and laid the groundwork. They proved they were real riders. They’re strong and aggressive and now that’s just understood here. They broke through for us and made it possible to have success like this.”

Almost 20 years after Krone won the Belmont Stakes, two months since Rosie Napravnik won the Kentucky Oaks, and a few days since Chantal Sutherland won the Hollywood Gold Cup, Davis thinks accomplishments by female riders should continue to be separated and recognized.

“You can’t deny that we’re girls,” said Davis, who grew up bending the ears of Krone and Diane Nelson. “That’s always going to be the way it is because in the real world there’s always the thought that men are physically stronger than women. But we’ve obviously come a long way, and on the track, I never felt like some guy tried to run me over because I was a girl.”

According to Davis, the smaller quarters of the women’s jockeys’ room is a challenge.

“It’s bigger than most girls’ rooms I’ve been in, but it’s not that big. And it’s not easy because we are all so overly competitive,” she said. “We keep it light and try to look out for each other. Even though we’re competing and even through there’s a bunch of us, we are still a minority and we realize we need to stick together.”

Having the leading jockey in the same locker room has also been an asset to Davis.

“It’s an honor to be successfully competing like this, especially with someone like Tammi,” she said. “She’s one of the strongest riders I’ve ever seen, and I’ve learned so much just watching her and listening to her advice.”

Jellison is coming back after 18 months away battling a combination of injuries that had her considering retirement. The one-time leading jockey at Rockingham Park returned to ride in the Lady Legends race at Pimlico in May and has four wins so far this season.

◗ The stakes schedule of eight Massachusetts-bred stakes races worth $50,000 each starts July 21 with the Rise Jim for older sprinters.