Wantha Davis Dies

Former jockey Wantha Davis died September 18.

October 31, 2012

Generic Racing Shot

Former jockey Wantha Lorena Davis, 95, died peacefully September 18, surrounded by her beloved family.

Wantha was born in Liberal, Kansas, on January 3, 1917. A child of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, she grew up with two brothers and a sister. She developed a love of horses early in her life and went on to become the world’s leading woman jockey of the 1930s, 40s, and '50s.

After finishing high school in 1934, Wantha's journey began when she left home and took a freight train bound for Texas. Within a day of her arrival in Texas, she found her way to a nearby racetrack where she galloped horses as an "exercise boy." She quickly earned a reputation for her gentle and intuitive nature around horses.

In 1939, she married Lendol Lee Davis and they had one son, Tad. They raised Tad while traveling all over the United States, Mexico, and Canada so Wantha could race. They toured the racing circuit in their old car packed with possessions and pets, pulling a horse trailer.

On account of her gender, she was refused a license to race at most of the larger tracks; however, she competed in exhibition and match races against many of the top male jockeys of her day. In 1949, crowds of spectators crossed the border from San Diego to Agua Caliente, Mexico, to watch her outrace National Racing Hall of Famer Johnny Longden by 1 3/4 lengths in a 6-furlong match race. Four months later, she won another match race against National Racing Hall of Fame jockey Jack Westrope.

In 2004, Wantha was inducted into the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame for her contributions to the American West and the sport of horse racing. To learn more about Wantha's racing career, visit girljockey.com.

Wantha is survived by her son, Dr. Tad Davis, daughter-in law, Marina Sifuentes, and grandchildren, Sean Davis and Marisa and Lia Davis.

She is preceded in death by her father, Ralph Bangs and mother, Emma (Hayes) Bangs. She is also preceded in death by her husband, Lendol Lee Davis, her brothers, Bud and Lloyd Bangs, and her sister, Bonnie Young.

A celebration of Wantha's life was held on September 22, and she was buried at a family cemetery near Duncan, Oklahoma. In lieu of flowers, the family requests a donation to Westlake United Methodist Church or the charity of your choice