‘Women should have equal rights’ – jockey Katie Davis fights to abolish coupling rule that threatens her career

Horse Racing Jockeys Katie Davis Trevor McCarthy
Jockeys Katie Davis and Trevor McCarthy want to overturn rule under which they are coupled for betting when they ride against each other. Photo via @trevormmccarthy on Twitter

By Jon Lees

USA: Newlywed jockeys Trevor McCarthy and Katie Davis relocated to New York expecting the switch to be for better, not worse; for richer, not poorer. ‘Worse’ and ‘poorer’ is how it’s going, though – thanks, claims Davis, to a rule forcing their mounts to be coupled for betting purposes.

McCarthy, 26, is a prolific winner in Maryland, where he had claimed 11 riding titles and exceeded 200 winners in a year four times. He had an opportunity to put himself on a bigger stage.

Davis, 28, vowed to support him and develop her career on a circuit where father Robbie rode many of his 30 G1 winners during the 80s and 90s and brother Dylan is a leading member of the jockey colony.

But on day one of the Aqueduct winter meet they were in for an unpleasant shock when racing officials invoked the little-known rule – that under New York State Gaming Commission (NYSGC) rules married jockeys riding in the same race would be coupled for betting purposes.

Horse Racing Jockeys Katie Davis Trevor McCarthy
Jockeys Katie Davis and Trevor McCarthy tied the knot in December after having to postpone April ceremony. Photo via @jockeykdavis on Twitter

It came completely out of the blue, says Katie. “Trevor came in a month before we moved here and told the stewards we were coming this winter to ride in New York,” she recalls. 

“They knew we were getting married but they didn’t say anything until the winter meet. We had entries already and then the first day that we rode they slapped it on the table and told us as we were married we were going to be coupled. They told us when we got there, settled in and had entries already.

‘We weren’t aware of the rule’

“We weren’t aware of the rule at all,” she adds, still aghast. “We had postponed our wedding because we were supposed to get married in April. If they told us a couple of months in advance we probably would have pushed it out, but it was three weeks until our wedding and it was out in Montana, on the other side of the US. It wasn’t like we could postpone it again. Everything was set in stone and we were going for it.”

McCarthy has ridden 29 winners from 193 rides since the meet started and landed the G3 Gotham Stakes on Weyburn on Saturday, but his wife has registered only a single victory from 64 mounts. She claims racing office officials have discouraged trainers from putting her up in races against her husband because coupled runners make less betting money for the track – an allegation denied by the New York Racing Association (NYRA).

The Thoroughbred Daily News (TDN) has estimated that whenever the coupling rule goes into effect, NYRA loses about $90,000 (£65,000) in handle because of the loss of a betting interest.

Horse Racing Aqueduct
Coupled for betting: how they bet on Race 1 at Aqueduct on January 1 with Davis on horse 1 and McCarthy on 1A

“Don’t get me wrong, New York is tough,” Davis McCarthy acknowledges. “It hasn’t been easy for women that have come in. But I’ve had opportunities where trainers have wanted to name me on their horses, new clients that I’ve never ridden for before, but they went off to a different rider because they didn’t want coupling.

“So I lose out. I have been impacted more. I can say Trevor was affected maybe twice, but 95 per cent of the time it’s me.”

What are the odds? Married jockeys Trevor McCarthy and Katie Davis coupled in life – and for betting

NYSGC Rule 4040.2 declares: “All horses trained or ridden by a spouse, parent, issue or member of a jockey’s household shall be coupled in the betting with any horse ridden by such jockey.”

The rule exists to protect the integrity of races by protecting against the possibility of married partners riding in a way to benefit either spouse. However, it has not been applied to unmarried, cohabiting couples or siblings.

“They are basically accusing us of being able to fix races by me setting a race up for my husband or him setting one up for his wife,” says Davis McCarthy.

“We’ve never had a complaint – we’ve ridden together since 2016. Even when we weren’t dating we’ve never had anybody question us. A husband and wife racing against each other should be something that race fans should thrive off. I can ride with my brother and there is no issue. I’ve always said blood is thicker than water.”

‘Blood is thicker than water’

For the moment there is no going back to Maryland with the couple committed to staying in New York, while at the same time campaigning for a change to the rule. A petition has been launched which so far has drawn nearly 3,000 signatories.

“Trevor had an opportunity to come to New York and pursue other clients and make connections, which he’s always wanted to do to take his career to the next level and I support him 100 per cent,” says Davis McCarthy.

“In Maryland under coronavirus rules they did not want two jockeys in two separate jocks’ rooms meeting up on off days so I kind of had no choice but to go, unless I went somewhere else. We’d just got married and we wanted to stay together.

“Trevor thinks the rule is so wrong. He wished it wasn’t there. He supports me. We don’t want other people getting married to go through what we have.”

Davis McCarthy has engaged a lawyer to help her in her battle with officials. “The petition is our opportunity to show it is putting a big strain on our business,” she says. “I’ve been told the more publicity we get, the Gaming Commission will have to consider it. We need at least 5,000 to turn their heads so the more signatories we get, even from other parts of the world, the better.

“The piece of paper [wedding certificate] is what locks you in with this rule. That’s weird because the rule says if you live with the jockey and share a household you should be coupled. There are jockeys who ship in and out for meets that share households. It’s not regulated the way it should.

She goes on: “Women should have equal rights. We’ve come a long way in this sport, but this rule suggests being a jockey is men’s work and you go home and cook dinner for the man. 

“The moral of it all is to support female riders and females in the industry and let them know we are equal. I just want help to abolish the rule.”

• You can sign the petition here

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