More than 30 years ago, the Publicity Department at Tampa Bay Downs originated the “Morning Glory Club” as a way to introduce fans to the personalities who make racing such a captivating sport.
In recent years, track announcer Richard Grunder’s guests at the Saturday morning gathering have included such luminaries as Kentucky Derby-winning trainers Carl Nafzger and H. Graham Motion; jockeys Pat Day, Kent Desormeaux and Ramon Dominguez; and the late Angelo Dundee, the legendary boxing trainer known for his work with Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard.
One of the biggest turnouts in “Morning Glory Club” history took place three years ago, when jockey Rosemary Homeister, Jr., appeared several months after giving birth to a daughter, Victoria Rose. The outgoing Homeister cast a spell on attendees, explaining the nuances of race-riding and filling every autograph request.
After riding the last two winters at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas, Homeister has moved her tack to Oldsmar for the 2014-2015 meeting and has started to climb in the standings, with six victories and 13 seconds.
Homeister returns to the “Morning Glory Club” stage on the first floor of the Grandstand at 10 a.m. on Saturday, and another large turnout is expected. Admission is free and coffee, donuts and Grandstand passes will be distributed.
Her flair for excitement shone through on Nov. 29 (“Opening Day”), when Victoria Rose, now 3, gave her a purple rose and a hug after Homeister’s victory on then-3-year-old colt On the River.
“Tampa is like home for me, and I’ve always done well here,” Homeister said. “I feel like I’m back with family again.”
After 22 years as a jockey, Homeister has at least two good reasons to keep testing her limits as a 42-year-old mother.
One is her inner drive to excel at the top level of Thoroughbred racing. “I always think I might (be ready to retire), but I have such a passion and love for it that I don’t know when my time will come,” she said. “As of right now, I feel great, I’m happy with what I’m doing and my passion is stronger than ever.”
Her main reason to keep riding is to prove to Victoria Rose that having a child shouldn’t stop any woman from pursuing her dreams.
“Having a child makes being a jockey even more exciting,” said Homeister, who has 2,713 career victories after winning today’s fifth race on 5-year-old mare Crafty Chick for owner Law Legacy Stables, LLC and trainer Skip Einhorn.
“And it gives me more determination to do my best, because I want Victoria Rose to know that women can do anything they put their minds to. I want to be successful for her. I want her to see her mommy is doing everything she can to make her happy and to give her everything that she needs,” added Homeister, who trails only Hall of Fame jockey Julie Krone’s 3,704 win total among women riders.
Homeister’s list of career accomplishments may one day earn her enshrinement in racing’s National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. The daughter of south Florida trainer Rosemary Homeister, Sr., became the first woman to win an Eclipse Award for Outstanding Apprentice Jockey in 1992, and she has spent little time since resting on her laurels.
Homeister has won meeting titles at Calder, Hialeah and Colonial in Virginia, and she was second-leading rider at Tampa Bay Downs on two occasions. She became the fifth woman to compete in the Kentucky Derby in 2003, finishing 13th on Supah Blitz.
In 2001, she was the first woman jockey to win the Clasico Internacional del Caribe in Puerto Rico, scoring on filly Alexia against the boys. She is a member of both the Calder Race Course and Puerto Rico Racing Halls of Fame and was the first jockey to receive the Babe Didrikson Zaharias Award.
With more than 100 stakes victories, including four Grade II triumphs, Homeister has shown a knack for being at her absolute best on the sport’s biggest stages. In 2009 at Santa Anita, she and 9-year-old Cloudy’s Knight came up short by a nose to winner Man of Iron in the Breeders’ Cup Marathon after Homeister won back-to-back Grade III stakes on the durable campaigner for Hall of Fame trainer Jonathan Sheppard.
She achieved a healthy measure of solace later that year on the gallant gelding, riding him to victories in the Valedictory Stakes at Woodbine and the Grade II W.L. McKnight Handicap at Calder.
During the 2009-2010 Oldsmar meeting, Homeister posted three consecutive stakes victories on Diva Delite, including a triumph in the Grade III, (then)-$175,000 Florida Oaks for 3-year-old fillies. And anyone who was in attendance that season for the Tampa Bay Stakes on the turf will never forget Homeister summoning the utmost from 8-year-old Karelian to defeat reigning Eclipse Turf champion Gio Ponti and Ramon Dominguez by a nose.
Homeister is confident she will continue to reward her extended family in the Tampa Bay area for their loyalty. “You cannot be a jockey and not give 100 percent. It doesn’t work that way,” she said. “If you’re half-assed out there, you’re going to get hurt. You have to be 100 percent focused and give 100 percent to the trainers and owners that you ride for.”
Allen, De La Cruz ride two winners. Veteran jockey Ronnie Allen, Jr., rode two winners today, giving him 12 for the meeting. Allen won the first race on I’m So Lucky, a 10-year-old horse owned by Randy L. Klopp and Spiess Stable, LLC and trained by Klopp.
In the sixth race on the turf, Allen guided 4-year-old colt Professor Pegasus to a gate-to-wire victory going a mile-and-three-eighths on the turf. The first-time winner paid $37 for owner Mossarosa and Hall of Fame trainer Nicholas Zito.
Fernando De La Cruz also won two races. He scored in the seventh on 6-year-old gelding Unstoppable U for owner Amaty Racing Stables and trainer Sandino Hernandez, Jr., and returned to the winner’s circle after the ninth on 5-year-old gelding Fairy Snow for owner-trainer Jason DaCosta.
Today’s 10-race card begins at 12:30. There also will be Thoroughbred racing Sunday afternoon. Tampa Bay Downs is open every day for simulcast wagering, no-limits poker action in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.