Tammi Piermarini

Tammi Piermarini

By Joe Dwinell, the Boston Herald
Nothing compares to being in the starting gate with the roar of the crowd filling your ears and a powerful thoroughbred beneath you ready to run like the wind.

It’s a memory jockey Tammi Piermarini said she’ll never forget about her 29 years at Suffolk Downs, the Hub racetrack that is closing after the sole Boston-area casino license went to rival Wynn Resorts in Everett.

Piermarini, 47, of Leominster, the nation’s third-most-winningest female jockey, said the city is losing more than a way of life — it’s saying goodbye to horse farms, groomers, trainers, stable hands and countless others who earned a living working with “beautiful” animals. Sad that future generations will never know about the mile-long oval, Piermarini shared her memories with the Herald’s Joe Dwinell:

“I won my first race at Suffolk Downs on my second mount in 1985. I was only 18 years old, and I was initiated right after with eggs, water and shoe polish. I didn’t know it was coming. My helmet smelled like eggs for weeks. I’ll never forget it.

I’ve been run off the course, been over the rails, had horses fall. I’ve had so many spills and thrills at Suffolk Downs. I remember once hearing a woman scream her lungs out just before the race. The excitement could be like the World Series — every day. I especially remember the crowd when I first started. The crowd makes it.

How many people get to go to work and do what they love — and make money while being out in the elements? I rode in the snow. In the rain. The heat. I’ve won 1,900 races at Suffolk Downs. (She’s won nearly 2,500 races overall.)

I was overwhelmed driving to work by the news of us losing the casino license. I thought the casino could save us. I almost had an anxiety attack. I felt like getting sick.

What’s next? We’re all going in different directions; we’re all being pulled apart.

There’s a lot of history we’re losing. People are going to miss out on the beauty of horse racing.

People will especially miss out on the beauty of the animals. There’s nothing more beautiful than a thoroughbred in flight. To be in unison with your horse and compete is amazing. You can feel how much they want to win. They are putting all out, digging deep down inside to win. We call that a horse with heart. They run through pain. They run in the mud, in the dirt, on turf. When you call on that horse, it gives you all they have.

Now I’m not sure where we’re going. I’ll sit down with my husband, John, who’s also my manager, and our kids (13, 8 and 4 years old) and figure out what’s next.

Do I get out of the business or go elsewhere? I don’t know. Trying to start over again is tough.”