It was embarrassing – for both of us.
On the annual hunt for a quote from connections of every Travers Day stakes participant, we ventured outside the paddock, past the stakes horses in the Clark barn, past the outdoor bar at Siro’s and into the maze of stalls that look they were erected by an 8-year-old with her first Breyer set. There was Eddie Davis, in between galloping one and poulticing one.
In his first year of training, Davis wasn’t getting many reporters to his barn last summer. But The Special has traditions, we had to ask about longshot Tiz Morning in the Grade 1 Sword Dancer. Third in a turf claimer earlier in the meet, the 4-year-old gelding was about to face the likes of Annals Of Time, Channel Maker and Sadler’s Joy.
With a straight face, we asked a question. With a straight face, Davis answered the best he could.
“We’re taking a shot here. It’s a big jump,” Davis said. “He’s a cool horse, he goes in draw reins, he’s real easy, anything I throw at him, he’s abiding…”
We thanked him. Job done.
Tiz Morning, at 77-1, abided past one rival, 11 lengths behind Annals Of Time in the Grade 1 stakes.
“Oh my God, I didn’t know what to say to you…” Davis said when reminded of the put-youon-the-spot moment. “I was grateful for the opportunity, to put my name on the program and try to work some magic but I was in a pickle.”
Let’s just say the Sword Dancer wasn’t Davis’ choice. A year later, he is picking his own spots. And winning.
The 29-year-old local registered his first win at Saratoga and third win of his career when Kinky Sox rallied along the rail to win Friday’s second, a $14,000 claimer. It was a much easier conversation than last year.
“Oh man. It feels amazing. It really does,” Davis said from the test barn. “Last year, we came really close. I had seven or eight horses and they ended up finishing the meet with about $170,000 but we didn’t get a win. I felt so incomplete, it was like, ‘We did all right, but we didn’t win.’ ”
Davis sent out 22 starters at Saratoga last summer, whittling a second, five thirds and four fourths from an eclectic, mostly overmatched string. So far this summer, he’s produced a win, a second, a fourth and a sixth from four starters.
“It’s a really excellent feeling. It’s refreshing to get the horses ready, put them where I want to put them and know they’re going to fire or at least that you’ve given them their best chance,” Davis said. “Working with this mare, she’s been consistent and I’m really proud of her.”
Three days ago, Davis had four horses. By Friday morning, he had seven. With a winner in the bank, perhaps that number will grow. Davis is a member of the hardest working family in racing that includes his father, former jockey and trainer, Robbie, and three siblings (Dylan, Katie and Jackie) who are jockeys. Eddie used to sprint five blocks from his elementary school to his house in West Hempstead to watch his dad ride at Belmont or Aqueduct.
“I’d be at the kitchen table watching the races intently,” Davis said. “I always wanted to be a jockey, but I’ve had a long relationship with my bacon, egg and cheese and we’re still going strong.”
After graduating from Saratoga High School, Davis told his father straight.
“Listen, Dad, I’m not going to waste your money. I’m not going to college and ask you for a half-million dollars or whatever it takes, it’s not going to be for me. I’ve always loved the horses…”
Robbie Davis, winner of 3,382 races, taught his son how to gallop in the fields of their farm, 10 miles out of Saratoga. The son joined the father, helping in the barn, learning to gallop horses on the track.
“I wasn’t that good at first, I was half-scared, but I persevered through it,” Davis said. “I tried to be as consistent as possible and I got where I was comfortable around horses.”
Father pushed son out of the nest.
“Listen, you’ve got to go learn, from somebody good. You don’t want to be just an exercise rider in this game.”
Davis applied for his assistant trainer’s license when he was 25 and went “barn to barn” at Belmont Park, galloping horses and looking for a place to learn. He stopped by Gary Contessa’s, talked to David Jacobson. They said they’d get back to him. While they were not getting back to him, Davis heard that Jimmy Jerkens’ assistant, Kent Sweezey, was leaving. Davis mentioned it to his dad.
“Come on…you’re going with Jimmy,” said Robbie Davis, who rode Jerkens’ first winner, Ninth Inning, in 1997.
Eddie Davis fit right in, galloping high-headed fillies in long-ago equipment he couldn’t pronounce. Blowing out “bears” two days before a race, pulling them up sharp before the seven-eighths pole. Following Jimmy up and down the shedrow, in and out of stalls, to the paddock and back to the barn.
“He didn’t really say much. Every once in a while, it would come to a point and he would look at me and say, ‘Ed, that’s why I do that.’ In this game, you’re going to be learning until your career is over,” Davis said. “I am very grateful for the opportunity Jimmy gave me. I took it real serious and I took pride in riding his horses. When he called upon me, he could trust me.”
With Jerkens’ blessing, Davis pounced on the opportunity to train horses, saddling his first runner in January 2019, winning his first race with Tiz Morning three months later and winning his first race at Saratoga Friday.
“It’s been my dream since I was 17 on the backside,” Davis said. “I feel grateful for the opportunity. I feel grateful to be training today. I graduated high school from Saratoga. I call this my hometown. There is nothing like winning at Saratoga.”
Sure beats running 77-1 shots in the Sword Dancer.