Despite having ridden more than 2,400 winners in her career, jockey Rosemary Homeister Jr. felt she had something to prove on Opening Day at Tampa Bay Downs.
Her mount in the $75,000-guaranteed Lightning City Stakes, Jenny’s So Great, ran as if she felt the same way.
Homeister guided the 4-year-old Canadian-bred filly through a narrow opening in deep stretch and Jenny’s So Great responded like a champion, surging to a one-length victory from late-running Supreme in the five-furlong turf test in a swift 56.02 seconds, the second-fastest running in the eight-year history of the Lightning City.
Defending race champion Suzzona and Bounding Bi dead-heated for third. Jenny’s So Great, who was bred by former pop star David Cassidy and is owned by Vicki and Bill Poston, paid $7.80 as the favorite in the 11-horse field.
An Opening Day crowd of 4,869 enjoyed a superb day of racing and postcard weather as Tampa Bay Downs kicked off its 86th season. Total handle of $4,393,254.91 represented an increase of about $200,000 from last year’s opener; on-track handle was $376,401.30.
Homeister, who also won the 10th race on Vanquisher, was eager to show she has returned to top strength after giving birth to daughter Victoria Rose this summer.
“I am delighted and relieved to win this,” Homeister said. “Delighted, because i am back 'home' before my best fans, and relieved because I know I am fit and ready. I worked hard all fall to get ready and took eight mounts today. This was my second win (since returning to action at Churchill Downs). I am fit and I am ready.
“I got perfect instructions from Mr. (trainer Jason) Servis. He said to wait with her and not get into the race early on; even getting to the stretch I could have gone outside, but I waited and got a path and just like he said, she was flying past horses late. I am really grateful to the trainer and owners for the opportunity to ride this terrific filly!”
Servis spread the credit equally between Homeister and Jenny’s So Great, a daughter of Greatness-Jenny’s Search, by Lost Soldier, who won the Grade III Royal North Stakes at Woodbine in August and was beaten less than two lengths by Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint winner Musical Romance in a Grade II stakes at Presque Isle Downs two starts back.
“She’s a little runner who can really motor,” Servis said. “I was feeling good coming up to the race. If she gets beat she gets beat, but they were not going to beat her without running their ‘A’ race.”
Ellen Dooley, a Tampa resident representing the Postons, agreed wholeheartedly. “I had total confidence coming in,” she said.
Still, Servis was uncertain whether to run Jenny’s So Great until discovering the rail for the turf challenge would be at its normal setting. “When the rail is out it gets tighter and you don’t have as much room to run, and my filly comes from behind,” he said.
Jenny’s So Great now has won seven of 23 lifetime starts and the winner’s share of $45,000 pushed her career earnings above $600,000.
“I’d like to thank the Postons, who put a lot of time and money and effort into this business. They deserve this,” Servis said. “Rose rode that filly to a ‘T.’ She rode her exactly like I told her. She is a fast filly, and there are so many guys who would have moved too soon on her. She rode her excellent.”
Luis Garcia, who finished second on Supreme for owners Fares Farm and trainer Leigh Delacour, said his horse might have had too much to do in the final furlong. "She wasn't really alert in the gate and then we got shuffled back getting away and were farther back than I wanted to be,” Garcia said. “I had to wait for room entering the stretch and when we got room the winner got the jump on us. This is a nice filly and she showed that today, running a big race and finishing so well."
Perennial leading Tampa Bay Downs trainer Jamie Ness had a perfect day, saddling three winners in three starts for owner Midwest Thoroughbreds. Ness, who is second in the nation in wins in 2011, won with Phil’s Tango in the fourth race, Mindy Michelle in the sixth and Rich Hero in the ninth.
“Pinch me – it’s a great year and today was a great day,” Ness said. “The horses all ran good and got good trips. Everything worked great. I’ve had many days when my horses were all spotted good and nothing went right. Everything fell into place today, and it’s great because we’re back home and I got to see a bunch of my friends today.”
Also feeling right at home was jockey Leandro Goncalves, who rode four winners. Goncalves is third in the nation in wins for 2011.
“I’ve had a wonderful day,” said Goncalves, who won on Why Pretend in the second race; Heiko in the fifth; Mindy Michelle in the sixth, and Rich Hero in the ninth. “I had a great season here last year and I hope to do as well or better. My agent works so hard -- he deserves most of the credit. We have good relationships with the trainers here at Tampa and everything is getting better every year.”
Live racing resumes Wednesday with a 12:25 p.m. first-race post time