Racing News


by Mike Henry

Each time Madeline Rowland has competed in her short career as a jockey, she has felt the presence of an angel on her shoulder.

Rowland, who turned 18 on Nov. 6, lost her father to cancer in 2012 at age 44. Primarily a steeplechase trainer, Paul Rowland conditioned such notables as multiple stakes winner Preemptive Strike, Suntara, Rainbows For Luck, Swimming River and Across The Sky.

“Every race I’ve ridden, before I leave the jockeys’ room, I talk to my dad. Right before I leave the gate, I think to myself, keep the faith. Thank you. Because even though I don’t have him here with me, at least I can count on him to look out for me,” Rowland said.


Apprentice jockey Madeline Rowland's phone was working overtime after her first career victory in today's third race on Sancocho.

The youngster didn’t need much help from outside forces in today’s third race. Riding 4-year-old gelding Sancocho with the confidence of a grizzled veteran, rather than an apprentice with a 10-pound weight allowance making her ninth career start, Rowland moved Sancocho smartly to the lead in the stretch of the 7-furlong, $5,000 claiming race and rolled to a 3 ½-length score from runner-up Cliffy for the teen’s first career victory.

Sancocho, who is owned and trained by Juan Arriagada, improved to 5-for-20 with the victory. He paid $10.60 to win. In another endearing twist to the story, Rowland and Sancocho were ponied to the starting gate by her boyfriend Nicolas Arriagada, Juan’s son and a former jockey who earned his first career triumph aboard one of his dad’s horses here on April 16.

Rowland’s fellow jockeys did their part to make the occasion memorable, spraying her with a hose, dumping a couple of buckets of ice water on her head and smearing her with shaving cream on her return to the jockeys’ quarters. “Danny (Centeno) got me real good, and Skyler (Spanabel) was there with a hose waiting for me. I was like, I’m ready. I’ve been waiting for this.”

Juan was almost as far over the moon as “Maddie” after the race. “I’m very happy for her. She’s a good girl who deserves somebody to help her out, and I like to help young people who need support to keep pushing so they can do better,” he said. “She’s been working for me the past couple of weeks and it’s worked out well. There are a couple of things we have to fix, but everything went perfect today.”

Rowland, who grew up outside Fair Hill, Md., had ridden eight previous races at Delaware Park, Penn National and Laurel, with a second and a third. She said after today’s victory that it felt at times like an out-of-body experience, as she reflected on the influence of her father, mom Jodi and others who have advanced her fledgling career.

“As I was crossing the wire, I thought that I hoped (owner-trainer Elizabeth) Merryman was watching me. She is like my racehorse mom – she taught me how to gallop racehorses,” Rowland said. “My own mom has been a huge support for me. At first when I wanted to do pony racing when I was 11 or 12, she tried to keep me away – ‘No, do the show horses, don’t go into racing’ – but once she realized she couldn’t keep me away she said ‘Do it.’

“There are so many people I owe a lot to for me getting here. I thought about joining the military for a while because it would be great to serve my country that way, but now that I’m doing this, I can’t imagine myself doing anything else,” she said.

“Breaking from the gate today, I already felt a smile on my face because I love doing it. Every race I’ve done, it’s the same adrenaline whether I win or not.”

Two FTBOA stakes, Corgi racing highlight Saturday card. A pair of Grade III stakes winners, 5-year-old gelding Well Defined and 3-year-old filly R Adios Jersey, are the morning-line favorites for Saturday’s $100,000, 7-furlong Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association stakes for registered Florida-breds.

The 10-race card starts at 12:10 p.m. Following the 10th race, at about 5:30 p.m., Tampa Bay Downs will play host to Corgi racing, featuring the cute canines channeling their competitive instincts on the racetrack.

Well Defined has been established as a 2-1 morning-line favorite for the FTBOA Marion County Florida Sire Stakes for colts and geldings. The 2019 Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes winner at Tampa Bay Downs brings a 9-for-26 record and career earnings of $768,167 into the race, scheduled as the sixth on the program. Luca Panici will ride the multiple stakes winner, who runs out of the Kathleen O’Connell Racing Stable.

O’Connell, also the trainer, conditioned Well Defined for breeder and former owner Stonehedge when the horse won the Sam F. Davis.

Well Defined will break from the No. 4 post in the six-horse field. His most accomplished rival is No. 3 Shivaree, a 4-year-old multiple stakes-winning colt who won last year’s Marion County Florida Sire Stakes and finished second in 2020 in both the Grade I Curlin Florida Derby and the Grade III Swale Stakes.

Shivaree is trained by Ralph Nicks and will be ridden by Samy Camacho.

The other entrants in post position order, along with their jockeys, are No. 1 Grainger County, Jesus Castanon; No. 2 Drama Chorus, Alonso Quinonez; No. 5 R Mercedes Boy, Paco Lopez; and No. 6 Cajun Casanova, Pablo Morales.

The FTBOA City of Ocala Florida Sire Stakes for fillies and mares, which is the fourth race, is headlined by undefeated (5-for-5) 3-year-old R Adios Jersey, who won the Grade III Charles Town Oaks on Aug. 27 at Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races in West Virginia in her most recent start. R Adios Jersey is a 3-2 morning-line favorite.

R Adios Jersey, who is trained by Georgina Baxter for owners Averill Racing and ATM Racing, will be ridden by Paco Lopez and break from the No. 2 post. In her start prior to the Charles Town Oaks, she won the Florida Cup Stonehedge Farm South Sophomore Fillies Stakes at the Oldsmar oval.

As in the males stakes race, the City of Ocala Florida Sire Stakes also welcomes last year’s winner. Heiressall, a 6-year-old homebred racing for owner My Purple Haze Stables, has compiled an 8-for-26 career record for trainer Teresa Pompay, with earnings of $405,393. Jockey Antonio Gallardo will try to recapture last year’s magic as the duo breaks from the No. 1 post.

The other entrants in post position order, along with their jockeys, are No. 3 Bramble Berry, Jose Ferrer; No. 4 Island Magic, Isaac Castillo; No. 5 Khozmore, Luca Panici; and No. 6 Starship Nala, Samy Camacho.

Bennett is Trainer of the Month. The debate over whether trainer Gerald Bennett was officially in a slump didn’t last long. After failing to find the winner’s circle with his first 19 starters at the new meeting, Bennett sent out three winners over two racing days, including No. 4,000 of his career in Wednesday’s ninth race.

That victory on the turf by 8-year-old horse D’craziness, ridden by Antonio Gallardo, clinched the Salt Rock Tavern Trainer of the Month award for the 77-year-old conditioner.

Bennett became the 14th North American trainer to reach the 4,000 milestone. A former Standardbred trainer, the Springhill, Nova Scotia product won his first race with a 2-year-old named Victorian Sun at since-shuttered Greenwood Raceway in Toronto in 1976.

Bennett has been fielding congratulations since D’craziness crossed the wire. Wednesday night, he joined well-wishers for a while at a nearby bar and restaurant, but left early to ensure he was at the barn by 5 a.m. on Thursday to attend to the 40-plus horses in his barn.

During morning workouts, fellow trainers, jockeys and exercise riders saluted him for his accomplishment. “Racing is a small world, and you’d be surprised how many people you get to know,” Bennett said.

One of the first people to call was trainer Jamie Ness, Bennett’s rival at Tampa Bay Downs for a decade before shifting his base to the mid-Atlantic a few years ago. “He congratulated me, then he said ‘If you’re going to keep going, you old so-and-so, I may never catch you,’ ” Bennett said, laughing.

Approaching 3,500 victories himself, Ness – at 47, 30 years younger than Bennett – appears a great bet to surpass Bennett for a reason that has nothing to do with numbers or skill: He’s a horse trainer, pure and simple, having found his calling through early periods of struggle and self-doubt.

Bennett knows the type. He recalls a conversation they had a few years back, when Ness said he didn’t plan to approach his longevity. Bennett begged to differ. “I told him that the horses get in your blood, that the desire to win and the daily striving to achieve keep you going,” Bennett said.

It’s possible Bennett will reverse the roles and catch Ness in another category: most consecutive Oldsmar titles. Ness won nine in a row (tying Bennett in 2010-2011), three more than Bennett’s current streak.

Racetrack people appreciate the sweat and the long hours that contribute to Bennett’s year-in, year-out success. “That is a lot of races, and a lot of dedication that went into it,” Gallardo said after the victory. “You see him working hard all the time, trailering the horses – he goes everywhere, and he’s here every day. I’m just really excited to win No. 4,000 for him.”

In September, Bennett claimed 5-year-old gelding Xy Speed for $32,000 from an allowance/optional claiming turf sprint victory at Laurel. In his first two starts from the Bennett barn, Xy Speed won the $100,000 Laurel Dash and finished second in the Claiming Crown Canterbury Tom Metzen Memorial Starter Stakes at Gulfstream.

Bennett could point Xy Speed toward the $100,000, 5-furlong Turf Dash Stakes on Feb. 19 at Tampa Bay Downs.

Around the oval. Pablo Morales rode two winners today, both on the turf. He captured the sixth race with Promise Me, a 3-year-old Florida-bred filly owned by Rolling Meadows Farm and trained by Lester Barbazon, III. Morales added the ninth on Zerenia, a 4-year-old filly owned by Ken Geren and trained by John P. Terranova, II.

Zerenia was claimed from the race for $16,000 by owner-trainer Juan Arriagada.

Tampa Bay Downs currently races on a Wednesday-Friday-Saturday schedule, with a special Thursday, Dec. 23 card and Sundays added to the mix on Dec. 26.

The track is closed on Christmas Day, Dec. 25, and Easter Sunday, April 17. Otherwise, Tampa Bay Downs is open every day for simulcast wagering, no-limits poker action and tournament play in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.