Horse racing is a family affair for jockey Katie Davis, the daughter of retired jockey-turned-trainer Robbie Davis and sister of horseman Eddie Davis and fellow riders Jackie Davis and Dylan Davis. She is married to fellow NYRA-based jockey Trevor McCarthy with whom she shares their 2-year-old daughter, Riley.
Davis, a 10-year-riding veteran, amassed just 17 mounts in 2022 while caring for Riley but returned to the irons with aplomb this year by banking more than $2.3 million in purse earnings — a career-best figure — through a record of 421-28-34-41.
Davis made a memorable return to the stakes winner’s circle in February at Aqueduct Racetrack by guiding the Ray Handal-trained Funny How to victory in the $100,000 Broadway. In addition, she posted her first career wins at Belmont Park with claimer Jester’s Song and also at Saratoga Race Course by guiding River Tay to victory in a maiden claimer for the first of seven wins at the meet. Davis also travelled to Delaware Park in October to capture the White Clay Creek aboard the Danny Gargan-trained Ringy Dingy.
“In 2017, I rode day and night and won 73 races and three or four stakes. I came here to ride, and I feel I’ve accomplished a lot. I’ve won 28 races this year and destroyed my career earnings record, and I had a life doing it. I feel blessed. It was my big goal to return after becoming a mother. It was a big challenge for me, and I feel like I nailed it, especially doing it here.
“I really wanted to prove myself — ride horses; people don’t want to ride and challenge myself. I connected with a difficult horse like Daddy Knows. I had no idea until I got in the paddock what he was like, but I won three on him for Ray Handal. To win at every circuit here in New York is really impressive, but sometimes I don’t see my accomplishments because I’m so living in the moment.
“I’m really thankful for all the trainers that have helped me along the way and still believed in me. To have trainers respect my talent and believe in me is important.”
Q. How did you stay in riding shape and earn the opportunities that ensured this success?
“My dad had a couple horses in Ray Handal’s barn and I was coming in the morning and hotwalking horses when I was eight or nine months pregnant and getting ready to pop. I was just helping out because you still have a love for the game and you want that exercise as well.
“I lost my identity as a rider [while pregnant] — there was nothing wrong with me, I was just having a child. It’s not like I was hurt or out on an injury. I had to sit out for six months but I stayed very busy. I did a lot of self-work, meditation and finding myself without the title, which is a beautiful thing because I feel that helped me along the way coming back to riding and not making that my whole life, especially as I have a child now.
“I also did a class called Pure Barre for little core muscles which ballerinas do. It’s not an aggressive workout — you have the barre and you’re just pulsing. I did that until I was seven month’s pregnant and I loved it. It was very intense but kept me tight in my muscles. I took Dylan with us here to try it on Long Island — and he’s ripped, solid – and he started doing this class and he was sweating! He said, ‘What is this, my legs are burning!’ It’s a really intense class and that kept me really fit.
“I was also getting on the bike and I did a lot of swimming towards the last month of my pregnancy. I had Riley with an emergency C-section. I was off for a month and wanted to get out there to do something. Ray needed an exercise rider and said to come on in the morning.”
Q. You and Trevor have both spoke out regarding mental health issues for jockeys. How do you combat negativity and issues related to the stress of being a professional athlete?
“Everyone handles it differently – not everyone can do meditation. I’ve also tried mantras — rather than guiding mediations — which can keep you focused on a positive repeating mantra. I’ve done breath work and love it and also sound healing and positive energy.
“Trevor does ice baths, which help you to breathe and relax because you can’t think about anything else. It’s really good for your mental health and they have a tub for it in the jocks’ room. Not everyone can do that, either!
“I love making doubters believers. I love to inspire anyone that might be down in the business. It’s just part of the game, and everybody gets down, but it’s only if you let yourself get that far down. You’re in control of your happiness and need to balance that. People can talk, but you know deep down inside you have your voice and always go with your gut and feelings. It helps to have good people around you, too, that you know you can trust.”
Q. What is your favourite racing moment of 2023?
“Riding Saratoga was a great moment for me. Whether on a longshot or the favourite, everyone was clapping and roaring when I walked out of that paddock, yelling, ‘You go, girl!’ Trainers would look at me and say they’d never seen such a thing. That was something usually saved for big horses, like when Cody’s Wish comes through, but almost every race I came out, everyone was clapping.
“My goal coming to Saratoga was to grab everyone along the journey and have them participate. If I see a kid, I’ll interact with them because we are the face of racing so for a jockey to interact with them, they love that. I handed out whips and goggles – here, take them! I have videos on my Twitter and Instagram with kids and me dancing and just enjoying it.
“I asked my dad if people think I’m not taking it seriously because it’s New York, and he said, ‘Your riding shows, so who cares. Julie Krone was outgoing and exciting, but as long as when those gates open, you’re serious and ready to come out with a fight. it’s OK.’ I loved every bit of it.”
Q. With so many athletes in the family, what is the atmosphere like at the holiday dinner table?
“We’re all very competitive. There’s a game called Phase 10 that we love. It’s a card game, and we get very intense with that game, and everyone is screaming. Eddie’s the best — he gets in everyone’s head.”