American jockey Tammi Piermarini recorded the 2,000th win of her career on 22nd August at Suffolk Downs in East Boston, MA, becoming just the fifth woman ever in North American Thoroughbred racing history to reach that milestone. 

Piermarini won with her first two mounts on Monday, scoring in the day’s second race with Fast Draw Lady, and again in the third riding Sugar Trade. The victory aboard Sugar Trade marked Piermarini’s 2,000th career win, placing her alongside Julie Krone (3,704), Rosemary Homeister (2,438), Patti Cooksey (2,137) and Vicki (Aragon) Baze (2,019) in the exclusive group of women with 2,000 or more career victories. (Statistics courtesy of Equibase.)

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

When asked about trying to reach 3,000 wins she replied: “My next stepping-stone is to move up to fourth all-time, then keep going. 

“I may never get to Julie. She is my idol.”

Piermarini said she never would have imagined achieving this landmark when she first started racing in 1985. “It didn’t hit me until this last month,” she told WBZ-TV. “I had no idea, didn’t hit me until my husband said, you really have something to be proud of here.”

Although she is clearly delighted with the result and reveres the four women who achieved the tally before her, Piermarini has faced challenges that her predecessors did not: “I’ve also had three kids in between. That’s my biggest accomplishment. That’s what I’m most proud of,” she explained to WBZ-TV.

Born on 2nd May 1967, Piermarini (44) is now a veteran jockey, having begun her riding career in 1985 as Tammi Campbell, amassing 986 wins through to 1998. 

From 1999 to present, she has won 1,014 races under her married name of Piermarini, for a combined total of 2,000 victories.

SUFFOLK SPECIALITY

Tammi Piermarini started race riding in 1985 and achieved her first win on 30th August that same year aboard Go Darby and Joan – also at Suffolk Downs racecourse.

In 1987 she rode Tour d’Or to victory at Belmont Park, equalling the track record for 1 1/16 miles, before the duo went on to compete in that season’s Massachusetts Handicap (Grade 2) – the signature race at Suffolk Downs – finishing third behind Waquoit and Broad Brush in ‘one of the most thrilling renewals’ of that race.

Indeed, Suffolk Downs has witnessed the vast majority of her triumphs – 1,586 – although Piermarini has won at 15 different racecourses during her 27-year career.

Suffolk Downs also saw her defy convention (on 15th May 2010), when just four weeks after giving birth to her third child, Sophia-Lawren Roseanne, by Caesarean Section, Piermarini rode no less than three winners on the Opening Day – having taped her incision and adopted supportive underwear!

Chuckling, she told Suzanne Salk: “Women are told not to even drive a car for six weeks” after childbirth, but, she knew her capabilities, and wasn’t afraid: “If you have fear when you’re riding you’re not going to be any good. 

“If you get to that point you might as well retire … you don’t want to be out there making bad decisions.”

That year she topped the jockey tables at Suffolk Downs, with 199 victories, for the second time (in 2007, she became just the third woman in the racecourse’s history to win a meet riding title). She is currently leading this year’s jockey standings with 62 wins, 14 ahead of Jacqueline Davis.

TWIST OF FATE

Born in Massachusetts, Piermarini was a typical pony-mad youngster, competing on her family’s show horses and taking a babysitting job to earn enough money to buy her own horse.

As fate would have it, the family she was babysitting for owned a farm in Salisbury named Wallace Racing. She was soon helping with the Thoroughbreds as well as the kids, progressing to breaking in yearlings and galloping racehorses.

“I was finally really getting into the whole system and such when someone asked me, ‘Why don’t you become a jockey?’,” explained Piermarini to Evan Mugford. “The minute I turned 18 was the moment I was eligible to become a jockey. I received the OK from five different trainers and after that, everything else is history.”

With an apprentice license, she started at Suffolk Downs, a track known for its acceptance of female jockeys, and which at the time hosted top female riders including Jill Jellison (who still races there), Linda Anderson, Abby Fuller, and others. There, she worked as an exercise rider for Bill Perry, Ned Allard, Karl Grusmark, Frank Shannon, and Jeff Hooper.

UNSTOPPABLE

Her racing career steadily progressed until 1994, when during a race she was hit by a severe headache. The pain became so bad that after her fourth race of the day (which she won!) she was carted off to hospital – to be diagnosed with viral meningitis.

Piermarini battled the effects of the disease on and off over the next four years, but still managed to accumulate 986 wins in 1998 before taking some dedicated time off to conquer the illness once and for all.

During her time out she met John Piermarini through mutual friends, and after accepting his proposal on their third date she married him a month later. 

She returned to racing in 1999, competing under her married name with John as her agent. She did take some more time off – to give birth to Izabella and Johnny – though her appetite for racing remained undiminished.
Soon back in the saddle, she went on to suffer a serious racing fall in 2008, being knocked unconscious for seven hours and unable to walk for three days. 

Happily this did not prevent her from subsequently producing their third child, Sophia-Lawren – nor did it put her off racing!

DRIVEN BY ADRENALINE

Her achievements on the track have previously been acclaimed by the New England Turf Writers Association, which twice presented her with the Eli Chiat Memorial Outstanding Jockey Award (2007 and 2010), and upon reaching the 2,000 wins milestone she is once again making headlines.

When asked by Evan Mugford why she loves her job so much, Piermarini had a few answers:

“First, I just love the animal. They’re amazingly powerful creatures.

“I love the competition – I hate to lose – and I’m not going to be bashful, the money can be very good.

“The excitement and adrenaline that comes with this profession is very hard to compare too. The rush from the gate I guess can be compared to car racing, but even then, it’s more of a natural force.

“Just imagine the instance where your adrenaline is at its peak, like if you catch yourself dozing at the wheel or you’re about to rear-end another car. That brief and swift reaction. That moment where you snap awake. That’s pretty close.”

Let’s hope this inspirational lady can keep notching up wins for a good time yet. 

Pictured: Piermarini’s milestone win aboard Sugar Trade at Suffolk Downs on Monday 22nd August 2011. Courtesy of Chip Bott.

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