No Bug, No Problem for Ferrin Peterson

Ferrin Peterson | Sarah K. Andrew photo

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When Ferrin Peterson came to Monmouth to ride this spring, she expected that she would have nine months as an apprentice rider to get her feet under her.

And if she hadn't been so good, she would have.

Last weekend at Monmouth, Peterson not only lost her bug after winning her 40th race Saturday, but went on to have the most successful weekend of any rider at the track, with four wins, five seconds and five thirds. Three of those wins came without the seven-pound allowance with which she had been riding.

“That for sure has to help her out,” said Kelly Breen, who put her on her first winner as a journeyman Saturday at Monmouth, when she won the 11th race aboard Summer Mischief (Into Mischief) wire-to-wire by 8 1/2 lengths. She added two more wins on Sunday.

All riders starts out with a 10-pound allowance until they win five races. After five wins, they're allowed seven pounds off their mount's assigned weight until they win an additional 35 races, and they ride with the five-pound allowance until a year from the date of their fifth winner, when they officially become journeyman. If they don't win 40 races within that first year, the allowance is extended until they do. “No apprenticeship shall extend for more than two years from the date of the fifth winning mount, except for good cause the Board may extend the termination date of an apprenticeship or amend the conditions under which the apprenticeship is granted,” the rule reads.

Peterson had applied for just such an amendment due to the unique circumstances of her education, and the challenges brought about by the global pandemic, because the intent of the rule is clearly to give apprentices a full year with an incentive for trainers to use them. Peterson's time has fallen far short of that.

Peterson won her first race as a journeyman by 8 1/2 lengths aboard Summer Mischief for Kelly Breen | Bill Denver/Equi-photo

With a DVM degree from U.C. Davis, Peterson is mostly likely the best-educated jockey in history. But the pull to ride races was even greater than her pull to be a vet, or, at the very least, she wanted to give it precedence while she could.

Peterson rode her fifth winner at Golden Gate Fields May 24, 2018, exactly one year before she would graduate from vet school. And while she realized that from that moment on, the clock was ticking, she wasn't quite sure she had any other choice but to continue riding.

“I rode part-time, and I worried if I stopped and lost all the strength and tried to come back to it a year later, I might not get back to it,” she said. “I thought, `I'm going to keep doing this, keep fit and see what happens.' I kind of felt like the opportunity is here, it's now or never, and then I realized the horses were running for me. I thought, `maybe I'm better than I thought.'”

But the struggle to do both at once-serving as her own agent, galloping horses in the morning, studying for the boards-proved to be a lot. She approached the Golden Gate stewards, and asked for an extension on her bug and was granted it. After graduating from vet school, she decided that doing equine acupuncture and riding races would be two things she could do at the same time. She asked for another seven-month extension to get certified, and received it.

Of course, then COVID stopped all racing in Southern California, and Peterson and her agent, Julie Krone, thought Monmouth Park would make a lot of sense-or as much sense as she could make of a veterinarian putting her career on hold to be a jockey.

“I saw her riding, and how horses ran for her, and there was something intriguing about her,” said Krone. “This girl could do anything she wanted, and I wondered, `why does she want to do this so badly? What is it about horse racing that is so compelling for her?' I was determined to talk her out of it. I said you need to be a veterinarian and do this acupuncture thing and then, after I got to know her for a while, I realized she had a gift, and determination and talent and focus and grit like I've never seen.”

Peterson was an instant success at Monmouth, typically winning four to five races over their three-day weekend schedule and taking home four in one day once. She is currently the second-leading rider in the standings behind the perennial leader, Paco Lopez. She felt as if she were on track to have a shot at the Eclipse Award, despite only starting halfway through the year.

But what she didn't realize was that while the stewards would extend that year from the date of her fifth winner to include the time she didn't ride, they didn't wave the 40-win cap, so when she hit win number 40, she lost any and all allowance–despite the fact that her cumulative time riding wasn't close to a year.

For Peterson, for a moment at least, it seemed like it could be a bitter pill.

“Jockeys should have the liberty to chase other things so that they have a backup plan,” she said. “We would all love to be jockeys for as long as we can, but other things happen, and we shouldn't be punished for doing something unique. I was quite disappointed, because I would love to inspire others through my story.”

For now, at least, it looks as if she'll still get the chance. She was named on mounts in 13 of the 13 races on Saturday, the first day Krone was booking mounts for her as a journeyman.

“She has the momentum going for her,” said trainer Pat McBurney. “She puts a horse in the right place and everybody saw she could ride. The seven pounds is a big bonus. It helps you get mounts when you're not known. I guess we'll see going forward, but she won three races right away without the allowance, she knows where she is in a race, horses run for her and I think she rides a very smart race for being a young rider. If she's on a live horse, she's going to have it in the right place and she looks strong finishing.”

Breen was saddling a horse at Saratoga Saturday when she won her first non-bug race for him, but he said that his owners were gathered by the fence at Monmouth cheering her on. He also said that just like in life, in racing, timing is everything.

“She's the second-leading rider and the leading rider, Paco Lopez, is leaving for three weeks to ride in the Derby,” said Breen. Lopez has the Derby mount on Ny Traffic (Cross Traffic) and quarantine regulations will keep him out of Monmouth for that period.

“She was seen as a journeyman, competed at that level, didn't do anything wrong, won races, and now it's time for her and for her agent to get out there and talk some smack.”

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