Dylan Davis didn’t win the riding title at the Belmont Park spring/summer meet.
But don’t tell that to Mike Migliore, his agent.
“I told Dylan he won the meet title. Even though he didn’t come out on top, I told Dylan, what he did at the meet was unbelievable. He showed everyone that he belongs. He rode tremendously and I was proud and he should be proud of himself.”
In the record books, Irad Ortiz Jr. will be remembered as the leading rider at the meet. Yet the effort the three-time Eclipse Award winner needed to prevail by a single win speaks volumes for the progress Davis has made and his rising stature among New York horsemen.
Heading into the final week of the meet, Davis led Ortiz by three wins but three victories by Ortiz on the final day of racing enabled him to edge Davis by a razor-thin 48-47 count and claim his 19th riding crown.
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“I wanted to win it. It was the first time I had an opportunity to win a meet like that. But I put in my best effort and my career is moving in the right direction,” the 27-year-old Davis said. “I couldn’t have done it without the help of the owners and trainers who supported me and my agent, Mike. I hope it carries over to Saratoga and I have my best meet there.”
Typically, year-round riders on the New York Racing Association circuit such as Davis are most successful in the winter and early spring months then slide down in the standings when Belmont Park opens and the circuit’s Eclipse Award winners and Hall of Fame and Hall of Fame caliber riders such as the Ortiz brothers (Irad and Jose), John Velazquez, Javier Castellano, Joel Rosario, Luis Saez, and now Flavien Prat return to New York on a full-time basis.
Yet Davis more than held his own as the level of competition increased. Riding the momentum of winning the Aqueduct Racetrack winter meet for his first riding crown, he continued to thrive even when the scene shifted to Beautiful Belmont and the star power in the jockeys’ room grew with each passing week. Though he had 111 more mounts than Ortiz, riding 285 horses at the meet —63 more than anyone else—speaks volumes about the increasing confidence horsemen have in Davis’ abilities.
“Dylan’s riding great. He has a very positive attitude and works hard. He and his agent will be the first ones at the barn in the morning,” Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey said. “I’m very pleased with the work he’s done for us.”
Reflective of Davis’ superb riding, he already has 125 wins and earnings of $7,584,824 through July 21. His career-best totals for an entire year are a very reachable 142 wins (in 2018) and $9,493,444 in earnings (2021).
“Look, the owners, they want a jockey like Irad first. He’s a monster. I know that and Dylan still has some maturing to do,” Migliore said about his rider with 1,038 career wins and earnings of $56.8 million. “But Dylan is opening eyes and moving up the ladder. It going to take a few more years to catch up with riders like Irad and Jose (Ortiz), but he works hard and he’s smart and he’ll do it. I wish I was 41 instead of 61 so I could stay with this kid for the next 40 years. I love him.”
Davis, the son of former rider Robbie Davis and brother of jockeys Jacqueline Davis and Katie Davis, hopes that a stellar Belmont meet will pave the way for a career-best showing at Saratoga Race Course‘s famed 40-day meet where the sport’s best-of-the-best meet and compete. Since becoming a regular on the NYRA circuit in 2014, Davis has not finished higher than a tie for ninth in the Spa standings with 18 wins. But buoyed by his strong performance in the first half of 2022, he has some lofty objectives. Prior to the Belmont Park meet, he set a goal of a top five finish at the meet, and he has the same aspiration for the Spa.
“Going into the Belmont meet, I set a goal of finishing in the top five. I never thought I would be the leading rider going into the final day, but I worked as hard as I could and I was right there,” said Davis , who collected his first grade 1 win when he traveled to Woodbine last year for trainer Christophe Clement and won the EP Taylor Stakes (G1T) on Mutamakina . “Now, I’m transferring that top five goal to Saratoga and it’s something that I believe can happen. Mike (Migliore) has done a great job of lining up mounts for me and he has instilled the confidence in me that I can be very successful here in New York. The Belmont meet gave me some recognition and I believe it will be my best Saratoga ever.
“Trainers are calling Mike and I’m getting rides in big races. Things are great.”
Davis started slowly at the Spa, winning just once from his first 27 mounts, but then he won on three of four rides on the July 21 card. Having four wins after six days certainly bodes well for his chances of surpassing his personal bests at a meet with a special meaning for him. As part of a family with deep roots in racing, he grew up in Saratoga and attended Saratoga Springs High School.
“Riding at Saratoga, it’s back to my roots, hanging out with the family. It’s like a reunion up here with my family, and a lot of friends I grew up with in Saratoga,” Davis said.
Whatever happens at Saratoga through Labor Day, Davis’ 2022 results, which include 64 wins when he captured the riding title at the Aqueduct winter meet, reflect the hard work and dedication it took to return from a March 2021 spill in which he suffered a broken clavicle and was sidelined for a little more than two months.
“It was the first bone I broke in my body. I knew the risks going into the sport, but after that setback it was upsetting that I couldn’t ride,” Davis said. “So, I turned off the television and stopped watching racing. But then the time away motivated me to work harder. I was doing well before the injury and could have been quite comfortable with the level of success I was enjoying, but the injury and being away revitalized me and made me want to work harder . When I came back I wanted to show everyone that I wasn’t scared about getting hurt again and that I had the fire to work harder than ever before.”
Migliore said some advice from his brother, former jockey and current New York Racing Association analyst Richard Migliore, also played a role in Davis developing some highly beneficial confidence that has allowed him to reach his full potential.
“My brother Richie was probably the biggest help in making Dylan the rider he is today. We use to have so many seconds because he would take a hold on the horse and take away its natural speed. Now he’s letting his horses run and making the right moves with them. He should be walking with his shoulders back and head held high over the way he’s improved,” Mike Migliore said. “Dylan is so confident now. He’s confident enough in his abilities to save ground and stay inside, and he’s so much better prepared now for each mount. He’ll see things in looking at past performances that I don’t.”
It may seem strange that a jockey whose father was a jockey will pay close attention to a different jockey’s advice, but Richard Migliore understands the realities of the situation from dealing with his own children, who on occasion can turn a deaf ear to some fatherly words until someone else speaks the same words.
What Richard Migliore, who won 4,450 races while riding in New York in the same era as Robbie Davis, continually stressed to Dylan was the importance of race-riding as opposed to simply riding a horse,
“Dylan has improved a great deal. There was always a great deal of talent there,” he said, “but I felt there were times when he was inconsistent. There’s a huge difference in being a jockey, because there’s a lot of jockeys, and a race rider. A race rider is someone who is committed to the craft and prepares for each day in a consistent manner. They will go the extra yard. The injury gave Dylan time to recalculate how he approached the game and now he’s a race rider. His preparation is meticulous and consistent.
“I told him that when you leave the gate you do not have to send a horse, but you don’t have to grab them, either. When I said he should put five pounds of pressure on the reins, not 10 or zero, a lightbulb went on. He saw how a horse could run up into his hands and he could help a horse get into a rhythm and stay balanced. I talked to him about following cover and it didn’t seem to get through until I told him it was like a fullback blocking for a halfback in football and he had to find his fullback in a race. I can see the swagger in him now and it’s been a fun process to watch.”
Perhaps the race that best exemplified how Davis has stepped up his game was the one that ultimately decided the Belmont riding title. In the seventh race on the July 10 card, he rode Hail To a 3-year-old filly who had never been in front in the early calls of her six career races. Yet, breaking from the rail in a 1 3/8-mile turf race, Davis put the daughter of Kitten’s Joy on the lead and nursed her along through slow fractions, covering six furlongs in 1:18.09. Trailing Irad Ortiz Jr. by one win at the time, Davis held a half-length lead turning for home and furiously drove the 13-1 shot toward the wire as three rivals converged on her. Even as the filly was collared, Davis managed to coax her into battling to the wire. In the end, there was a four-way photo finish that went to Ortiz aboard Queen Bourbon by a head, with Hail To a head and a nose back in fourth in a gallant effort.
“If I had won that race, I would have won the riding title,” said Davis who closed out the meet by winning the final race to finish one win shy of a share of the crown.
While the Belmont meet may not have produced a Hollywood ending, what happened at it, and at Aqueduct as well, shows how Dylan Davis has fulfilled that promise to himself since his injury. About 16 months later, he is riding in career-best form and horsemen are surely taking notice after he came ever so close to overcoming the odds stacked against him and upending some of the sport’s best jockeys at a prestige meet.
Just don’t tell Mike Migliore that he didn’t win.