Pricci's Saratoga Diary
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Monday, August 22, 2011

Piermarini + Persistence = Milestone

SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, Aug. 22, 2011--What’s cool about Monday’s during the race meet here is not so much that it’s a day off: There are no real days off in this business.

But it is a busman’s holiday. With no handicapping and generally no writing to do, it’s a chance to be a fan, go to the backstretch in the afternoon where I can play the races, grab a burger, visit with friends and just hang out.

The ambience is akin to the old Great Barrington fairgrounds, sans cotton candy.

So I went over to the backstretch, advance bet a few races but then left. All the rescheduled turf races were mostly decimated by scratches, especially some of the races in which I had a interest.

I returned home and turned on the local OTB-TV station, just in time to catch the third race at Suffolk Downs.

Yes, that Suffolk Downs, because I’m a sucker for milestones, those historical achievements that help mark those special moments in life. Then I thought, don’t you know? The year of the filly continues!

As two horses battled headlong into the stretch, the eventual winner began his run. Sugar Trade took the slingshot route into the lane and that momentum eventually wore down the dueling leaders. When the official sign was lit, jockey Tammi Piermarini had ridden her 2,000th winner.

It took her 26 years to get there but she made it.

Older fans may remember her as Tammi Campbell, having begun her career in 1985, riding primarily at Tampa Bay Downs and Turf Paradise in the winters but full time at Suffolk when the temps were a lot more moderate.

In 1999, Tammi married John Piermarini, who’s now her agent and on Monday helped her to join some rather select company.

The leading female rider of all time, of course, is Julie Krone, who might have needed a stepstool to deliver her Hall of Fame acceptance speech but took no prisoners out on the racetrack.

To say that Krone was tough and smart and fearless with superb timing and strength would capture the essence of Thoroughbred racing’s all-time leading female rider with 3,704 victories.

Krone made it a point on induction day to say that she didn’t want her achievement to be “genderized.” She wanted to be regarded as a true peer.

But, really. Just like it’s difficult for a female executive to earn as much as her male counterpart for the same job, it’s just as difficult for a female rider to be entrusted with the kind of mounts that are capable of getting the job done.

Genderizing doesn’t diminish the achievement, it underscores it in our view. If that’s misogynistic, so be it. Besides, all jockeys are underrated and underappreciated as athletes, so why shouldn’t women who excel on horseback be celebrated?

Piermarini is only the fifth female rider in history to join the 2,000 club, although we have a feeling there will be a sixth when Anna Napravnik returns from injury to resume her career.

“Rosie,” remember, this year became the first female to be leading rider at Fair Grounds, a racetrack with a long and storied history.

Piermarini went into Monday’s program needing two victories to reach the plateau. She got #1,999 aboard Fast Draw Lady, a 3-1 chance in the second race, and #2,000 on the 19-10 Sugar Trade in an off-the-turf sprint.

The 44-year-old rider now trails only Krone, the still active Rosemary Homeister (2,438), pioneer Patti Cooksey (2,137), and Vicki (Aragon) Baze (2,019) in the exclusive 2,000-plus club.

Piermarini’s career began at age 18 and was interrupted often, either fighting bouts of viral meningitis or giving birth to three children. But subsequently she returned to win the Suffolk riding title in 2007, the third woman ever.

Tammi repeated three years later and once again is leading the Suffolk pack and runnerup, Jacqueline Davis, daughter of the retired riding standout, Robbie Davis, by 14 winners.

“My next stepping-stone is to move up to fourth all-time, then keep going,” Piermarini said when asked about trying to reach #3,000. “I may never get to Julie. She is my idol.”

Piermarini has won races at 15 different racetracks but the vast majority of her victories, 1,586, have come at Suffolk Downs.

“It feels excellent to get this win at Suffolk Downs,” Said Piermarini. “This is home. Most of these trainers and owners are who got me here.”

Her third Suffolk title won’t come easily. Jackie Davis won the nightcap, matching Piermarini’s output with two winners on the day. Then again nothing has come easily for Piermarini, winning notwithstanding, of course.

Written by John Pricci

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