By Dick Jerardi
Devon Dougherty was thrilled to be at Churchill Downs on Wednesday of Breeders’ Cup week as a finalist for the Thoroughbred Industry Employee Awards, which is sponsored by Godolphin. She was nominated for the Newcomer Award. The La Salle University junior, who is majoring in nutrition, has been working for trainer Roy Houghton at Parx since she got her racing license at 16.
Being one of just three finalists out of approximately 150 people who were nominated was reward enough. Winning the award, which is for people in the business five years or less, comes with a $5,000 prize and a five-day educational tour of Dubai, and was almost too much to imagine.
Until it was announced that Devon had won it. And her presenter just happened to be Bob Baffert.
“It was a total surprise,” said Devon’s mother, Linda, who has written about horse racing for a variety of publications through the years. “I didn’t find out she had even applied for it until she became a finalist.”
Devon saw an ad for it in the PTHA newsletter and showed it to Houghton who nominated her.
After the presentation, Baffert came over to Devon and said, “Hey, I’ll buy that trip to Dubai for 150 bucks.”
Devon wasn’t selling.
“It was totally shocked (when I won),” Devon said. “I was just happy to be a finalist.”
There were two judging panels, one that selected the finalists, and when the three finalists came to Churchill Downs, a second panel that selected the winner.
Devon, 20, did everything anybody who has ever worked at a stable does in her early years with Houghton. What is so impressive about her resume is that she was promoted to assistant trainer at the age of 19 which may be some kind of record and obviously impressed the judges.
Her trip to Dubai will be in March 2019 where she will be joined by other newcomer award winners from several countries where Godolphin has an operation.
So what does Devon know about Dubai?
“Just that they are big into horses and camels and falcons, but other than that…’’ she said with a laugh.
She will be taking a few days off from her duties at the barn and her classes at La Salle. She somehow does both which also had to impress the judges.
“I am at the barn around 4 and I work all morning,” Devon said. “My first class is 11 o’clock. I come back at feed time, make sure everything’s going the way it’s supposed to. I have classes five days a week. Some days, I go back for night classes. Usually, my day is done around 9-9:30.”
“Not much,” Devon said.
So why does she do it?
“I really like horses and animals and being around them,” Devon said.
And when she graduates from La Salle, she wants to work in horse racing.
“I want to do that Darley Flying Start program,” she said.
Trish Bowman, who grew up in Bensalem, worked at Parx for trainer Kate DeMasi and graduated from Holy Family, went through that program several years ago. She has worked for the Jockey Club and is now in the Laurel Park racing office.
Like the newcomer award, there is stiff competition to get into the two-year program, which is really a “masters” in horse racing.
But you don’t get anywhere unless you have goals, and Devon Dougherty has goals.
The long-range goal is to get her trainer’s license.
Short term, the money will go to a good cause.
“I am going to use it to pay for school,” Devon said.