Cup of Coffee: Being Dylan

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Two years ago, I needed a column. Wandering and wondering, I walked down Gridley Street and found an 18-year-old wide-eyed kid pulling his tack off a horse.  

In 2012, Dylan Davis wanted to be a jockey. In 2014, he is a jockey.

Wednesday, Davis won his third race of the meet, steering first-time starter Ms Eileen to win the fifth. It was career win number 174 for Davis. Saratoga isn’t easy for any jockey and it hasn’t been easy for Davis. If he’s questioned it or he’s frustrated by it, you’d never know. Every day, he and his agent Mike Kelly, upbeat, walk the beat. For weeks, Davis has laughed when he’s seen The Special’s team, “I want to make The Special. Before the meet’s over, I want to make The Special.”

This is how far you’ve come, kid.

The Davis Bug. August 4, 2012.

Same leg, straight from geometry class. Same foot, angled just right in the stirrup. Same back, upright and pure. Same hands, firm but free. He sits on a horse like he’s in a Paul Brown sketch.

First, you see his position. Then, you see his youth.

Dylan Davis, 18, rides a small bay back from the main track to Glenn DiSanto’s private barn on Gridley Street on Sunday morning.

Flash back, what, 20 years, maybe 30 . . . It’s Robbie Davis, a standard on the New York Circuit, winner of 3,000-plus races, respected journeyman, lifer.  

“It’s uncanny, how much he rides like his dad,” trainer Jim Bond says, as Davis rides past. “Same position. Same look. Same everything.”

On Saturday morning, Dylan Davis is an exercise rider, freelancing, catching anywhere from five to eight a day, hustling a few on Gridley, a couple at the harness track, one for Wesley Ward every morning at 8:45. Monday, he’ll be a jockey, getting to ride Sandyinthesun on the turf for his family and perhaps one for Ward. It will be his first ride.

“I might get to ride this Monday,” Davis says with a big smile. “It’s going to be fun, I’ll be a littler nervous, because everybody will be watching my first mount, I hope I don’t make any mistakes.”

If he’s ever shaved, you wouldn’t know it. He weighs 104 pounds, he’s measured his weight against his brothers throughout high school, each year, the dream kept alive as he weighed in well under his two brothers at their corresponding ages. All wrestlers, they’ve stepped on the scale more than most, Dylan making the varsity wrestling team for Saratoga High as a sophomore when he weighed 84 pounds.

Dylan Davis, the youngest of Robbie and Marguerite’s six children, won’t be the first to follow dad’s footsteps. Jackie Davis made her debut at Saratoga in 2008. After she rode her first race, she walked through the clubhouse box seats and was asked a question.

“Are you the jockey?

“I am now.”

Her smile said it all – youth, exuberance, pride, determination, potential.

She’s riding at Suffolk Downs now while younger brother tries to get his start at Saratoga. Robbie Davis hasn’t pushed any of his children, but once they’ve climbed into the fuselage, he gives them all he can.

 “We’re planning on going to Suffolk after this meet ends, just to get on a bunch of losers. Dad says, 50 losers, then 50 winners, just to learn all the habits, horses leaning in, leaning out, drop my whip, getting in the crowd. We’re going to really start this winter at Aqueduct,” Dylan Davis says, after hanging up a bridle at DiSanto’s barn. “I don’t want to do too many races here because I don’t want to start my bug. I officially got my gate card yesterday, but they already told me I was doing great. I’ve been playing around with horses forever.”

That shows, as he guides his horse through DiSanto’s shedrow and into a stall, sliding the saddle into his arm, flipping the girth, sliding the bridle like he’s done it for decades. Under a red helmet and behind a red flak jacket, Davis banters about horses, family, his father, his career while checking the time for his next set.

Davis has the bug. Literally and figuratively.

“I want to be a pretty good bug when I start my bug year. Hopefully, I can win five races and hold it for a second, my dad says agents have already talked to him, but I want to wait to lose my bug. I’d like to be a five-pound bug next year at Saratoga, just like (Wilmer) Garcia this year,” Davis says. “I have a lot of expectations to live up to, I do whatever I can to make it. It’s going to be fun. It would be great to ride for my dad, it’ll be a good story to tell.”

As for dad, he’s cautious and energized, while trying to temper and promote his son. Robbie Davis has been working horses with his son for the past few weeks, talking him through the paces. In the afternoons at their 80-acre farm 15 minutes from the track, they’ve practiced the afternoon drill: racing saddle, silks and breeches and riding around a paddock.

“Umm, he says he’s nervous but not as much because Jackie’s been riding, he says he’s getting used to it,” Dylan Davis says. “He never wanted to push it on me, he wanted to have it as my decision, once I said I wanted to do it, he’s backed me up and helped me, he doesn’t want to force it on us, he knows how dangerous it is, he’s already told me all the crazy stuff, what can happen.”

Robbie Davis weathered the ultimate highs and the lowest of lows while competing for 20 years. He’s still active, training Sandyinthesun and galloping a few horses. He instilled the bug in his son and he’ll try to provide the cocoon.

 “We’re going to go over a bunch of strategies and stuff, what can happen during the race, I don’t know too much about the racing, racing,” Dylan Davis says. “You can watch it, but you don’t really know until you’re riding. Instincts, you can’t hesitate or anything . . .”