Jessica Pyfer

FOTH: Where were you born and where did you grow up?

JP: I was born in Denver, CO and lived there until I was 6. Then we moved back to CA and I’ve been here since.


FOTH: What sort of girl were you growing up?

JP: A total horse girl. We had a farm when we were in Colorado and all i did was ride and spend time with my horses. Throughout my life it’s been very rare that I would go a day without riding.


FOTH: Now did the thought of being a jockey enter your mind when you were say 12 or 13 years old?

JP: I had always had the thought in the back of my mind but at that time I had been competing in the jumpers and my real goal was to go to the Olympics. It wasn’t till about the age of 16, when I would get a license on the racetrack where I really started thinking about it more and more. Once I started breezing horses, that’s when I knew that I wanted to ride races.


FOTH: What track did you work at and what was the experience like being in the backside of a racetrack?

JP: I started at Santa Anita and then traveled to Del Mar in the summers. I have been doing this since we moved out to California when I was 6 because my mom is an exercise rider and my stepdad is a trainer, Philip D’Amato. I loved waking up early and going with them to work in the mornings so it was awesome to actually be able to go and ride when I was old enough. It definitely felt like a family in our barn.


FOTH: What did your dad think when you told him you wanted to be a jockey?

JP: It was something I tried to avoid for a long time. I knew how he felt. I was in college, applying for law school and he felt like that was the better choice for me. But what it really came down to was my family not wanting me to regret not trying to ride races. We had a discussion about it and he said “if you are going to do it, now is the time” and after that, it was all I focused on.


FOTH: So who taught you how to gallop/ride horses and looking back was it easier or harder than you thought?

JP: My mom was my mentor. Before I started on the track she would take me to the farm to get on babies and learn how to position myself and what things to look out for. There was a lot more that went into it than i thought. It helped that I had ridden jumpers my whole life but it was also an entire different riding style than what I was used to. I started working out more because horses are much stronger on the track then what I was used to. You will learn something new every day when riding horses on the racetrack.


FOTH: So how long did you exercise/gallop horses for before you decided to apply for a jockey license?

JP: I probably ponied for a year, then galloped for about 3 years. The last year was the eye opener as I started breezing horses for many different trainers.


FOTH: So how excited were you to hold your jockey license in your hand?

JP: Very. The day I got to hold it in my hands was also the day I rode my first race. That’s when I knew that it was real and it was actually happening.

FOTH: What track was it at? How nervous were you in the jocks room and did your parents see you ride that day?

JP: Santa Anita. I really wasn’t nervous until I walked into the jocks room and saw my silks hanging. That was another sign that this was really happening. I did an interview for TVG before my race and that got me even more nervous but when I was legged up on my horse, the nerves left and it was game time. I was back in my natural element. My first mount was for my dad so that was very special. He legged me up. And because of covid rules only few people were allowed in to the track with licenses and my mom is an exercise rider so she was allowed in. It was very special having them there.


FOTH: Where did you finish and was it a relief getting race #1 out of the way?

JP: I finished second. I really didn’t even know where I finished until I came back. It was such a blur. After that race, I wanted to do it again right away but I didn’t have another mount until the next week. I loved every second of it.


FOTH: Good for you. Now onto your first win. What track was that at and did you win in a photo or by a lot?

JP: Santa Anita again. It was my 6th mount and we won by 1 and a quarter length. It was a dream come true. When I was in front I wanted to stay in front until the wire and we hung on!


FOTH: What was it like jogging the horse back to the winner's circle?

JP: Jogging my horse back to the winner circle was an amazing experience. Although, because of Covid, it wasn’t really a winners circle, but I felt like I had accomplished my dream.



FOTH: So where did you end up riding the first couple months of your career?

JP: The past few months I have ridden at Santa Anita, Del Mar, and Los Alamitos.


FOTH: I know the Los Almitos meet went great for you. Tell me a bit about it.

JP: Yes. I got to ride a lot more horses and for a lot of new owners and trainers. It is a very speed favoring track so it really helped my riding style. I had a few 2 win days and a 3 win day. That was unbelievable. I couldn’t believe that within 2 and a half months of riding I was winning 3 in a day. I give my agent a lot of credit for getting us on live horses throughout that meet as well. I ended up 3rd leading rider behind Abel Cedillo and Juan Hernandez and it was a fight till the last race of the last day. We were battling it out until the end.


FOTH: That also got you some publicity, which was fantastic. Now have you ride in any quarter horse races?

JP: No I have not.


FOTH: So now for the time being I assume you stay on the West Coast?

JP: Yes. This is home and this is where I have the most support for now. I’m not opposed to leaving, but this is the best spot for now.


FOTH: Now take me through what you go through on a typical race day?

JP: On a typical race day I work horses in the morning, go over the races for that day with my agent, go home for a quick breakfast and head back to the track. I run a mile on the turf course about 2 hours before the first race just to warm up. Then I take a shower, change into my race clothes, study if needed for the races, and listen to my worship playlist. My faith has been an integral part of my career. Without my faith in God, I would not have the strength or peace that I do when competing in this sport. I like to stick to this routine as it keeps me grounded and focused every day.


FOTH: That's nice to hear. Is it weird at all for you riding races without fans?

JP: I’ve actually only ridden without fans so it’s normal for me. It’s great when owners are allowed thought because I am close without a lot of them. You could call me a COVID jockey I guess! I can’t wait till there are actual fans!


FOTH: Ha ha. Now are there many other female jockey out where you ride?

JP: Another girl just started a few weeks ago. Her name is Emily Ellingwood. It is nice to have another female in the room with me but I am very close with all the guys here. I’ve grown up around them and with them so we are all good friends.


FOTH: Could you ever see yourself riding on the East Coast one day?

JP: Yes. I would love to ride in Kentucky! It’s so beautiful there and the horse racing is so alive.


FOTH: If a young girl came up to you and said she wanted to become a jockey, what advice would you give her?

JP: I would tell her that there will be many battles that she would need to overcome, physically and mentally, but if she really loves horses and the sport of horse racing, nothing should stop her. It should not feel like a job, it should feel like your living in a dream and it will be the most rewarding experience.


FOTH: Jessica, good luck with your riding career, maybe I'll see you here on the East Coast one day. Thumbs up for the interview and any last words to wrap this up?

JP: Thanks for the interview footboy, here's to you kissing many more female feet in the future! Which of course I expect to see from you! 🤷🏼‍♀️😂 😂😂😂😂