It’s hard to make your mark in the world of sports, but veteran jockey Tammi Piermarini has done just that. The 44-year-old mother of three won career race No. 2,000 Aug. 22, placing her among a select group of just five female riders to record that many victories.
The win came aboard Sugar Trade in the third race at Suffolk Downs. It was fitting her milestone came at Suffolk as the win was followed by her 1,586th visit to the winner’s circle at the East Boston track where she has won two riding titles and leads the standings this year.
Piermarini is quick to point out there are no age limits in her profession and she’s feeling the best she’s felt since she started riding. Barring serious injury, she has a “good eight, maybe 10 years in me,” she said. “I hope I go on a tear and continue to win and do as well as I’m doing.”
Piermarini said the big win—she now is in elite company with Hall of Famer Julie Krone (3,704), Rosemary Homeister Jr. (2,438), Patti Cooksey (2,137), and Vicki (Aragon) Baze (2,019) on the female list—along with her first victory, was among the highlights of her career.
“I’ve never received so many congratulations in my life,” she said. “My husband put me on Facebook, and the comments keep coming in and coming in.”
Her first win, which also came at Suffolk Downs, came in 1985 when she was Tammi Campbell. She married John Piermarini in 1999, and he is more than a husband: He’s her agent.
“It’s fitting she did it here,” he said. “It’s been home for us for many years. I can’t say enough about the facility here and the outpouring they’ve given us, from the owner of the track all the way down. I couldn’t compliment them enough if I tried.”
Tammi Piermarini has had to try hard her whole career, evident by the more than 25 years it’s taken to reach 2,000 wins. She rode nearly 1,000 winners in the mid- to late-1980s before being sidelined by recurring viral meningitis. Her illness put her in a severe state of depression, but she was able to rally. She married John in May 1999, then rode throughout the last decade despite having three children: Izabella, 9; Johnny, 4; and Sophia-Lawren, 16 months.
Racetrack hours—going from barn to barn in the morning, then riding in the afternoon—are tough on anybody, much less a working couple trying to raise three children. The Piermarinis have hired a nanny and are cognizant of the time they need to spend with family.
“I’ve been juggling the last 10 years,” she said. “With the first pregnancy I didn’t ride at all, but I did gallop a few horses up until I was four months along. With my second pregnancy I rode until I was three months along, and then a couple of horses flipped back-to-back and I broke my foot, so I had to stop, but I still won 21 races while I was pregnant.
“The third pregnancy I stayed quiet for quite a while so I was four months along,” she said. “I had the baby April 15 (2010), and I was back in the tack two weeks later and riding full time and taking the title in less than a month.
“I’ve won four in a day being in-foal and four in a day not being in foal, so it doesn’t make any difference, but I’ll tell you, I am a proven broodmare!”
As the leading rider at Suffolk, Piermarini is also a proven talent. Her skill helps John book mounts for her, and it also helps the other two riders John books for: Gary Wales and apprentice Megan Fadlovich.
“They know Tammi is the key, and they can play off some of her double calls,” he said. “I have an analogy: I’m selling Coca-Cola and a lot of other people are selling soda pop. When you’ve got the product and you’re winning, people come to you. Your phone will ring and ring. You try to do the right thing by everybody.”
And while everybody is calling, Tammi Piermarini is calling out those who helped her along the way.
“My husband and my family are my greatest supporters, but in this business, every little guy has helped me get there,” she said. “All the grooms, hotwalkers, trainers, and owners...without them, and the horses, I couldn’t have reached this milestone.”