When she arrived at Tampa Bay Downs before the current meet, apprentice jockey Madeline Rowland hoped to ride a few winners while picking up lessons she needed to advance her career.
Where she was going to find the time to accomplish those goals, she wasn’t quite sure.
“When I came here, I thought I was going to have to find a salaried job, because I didn’t know what I was doing in a race,” Rowland, 18, said. “I kind of knew, but I didn’t have a lot of experience. Everybody was saying ‘You’re a girl and you’re an apprentice, and you’re not going to do good in Tampa.’ ”
It was a nice story when Rowland gained her first victory in her first start at Tampa Bay Downs (and ninth overall) on Dec. 10 aboard 4-year-old gelding Sancocho for owner-trainer Juan Arriagada. It got better on Jan. 28 when she scored her fifth victory on Arriagada’s 5-year-old Ride Em, a milestone that reduced Rowland’s apprentice weight allowance for a race from 10 to 7 pounds.
A couple of weeks after that, the floodgates opened. Since Feb. 13, Rowland has ridden 15 winners, punctuating that run of success with the first three-victory day of her career on Wednesday. The impressive display earned her the Salt Rock Tavern Jockey of the Month Award.
Madeline Rowland exults after a victory earlier in the meet (courtesy SV Photography)
“I’m delighted with how it’s turning out,” Rowland said, a couple of hours before notching her 20th victory on 4-year-old gelding Lemon Creek Louie in Wednesday’s ninth race for owner-trainer Mike Dini. “Two weeks ago, I was thinking it would be amazing if I could finish the meet with 20 wins.”
Don’t get the idea Rowland is short on confidence. She acknowledges entertaining visions of being a star in the sport one day, capable of competing against top riders in some of the biggest races. All that will take time, of course – something she has plenty of, now that she doesn’t have to work a side job.
Rowland keeps a journal in which she tracks her accomplishments and her plans to keep improving. She realizes 20 victories, even as a teenager, is a drop in a very large bucket compared to most of her rivals. And, truth be told, there is not a single aspect of her game that doesn’t need work, save for her natural enthusiasm that effervesces each time she wins.
“I journal about what I want to accomplish every week and about my career goals and my life goals,” said Rowland, the daughter of the late steeplechase-racing trainer Paul Rowland and Jodi Rowland, a Registered Nurse Case Manager who lives in Landenberg, Pa. “I journal about some things I’m proud of, things that I can be even prouder of eventually if I keep working.
“I’m always thinking of how I can be better, in this sport and as a person. As a jockey, how I look, my decision-making in a race, getting stronger. I want my career to last and I want it to be the best it can be.”
Fellow jockey Skyler Spanabel, her roommate, says Rowland is advanced beyond other riders with her relative lack of experience in her ability to strategize a race and carry her plan through. “She’s smart. She’s really smart,” Spanabel said. “A lot of apprentices don’t take the time to think in a race. They come out of the gate looking good, but they don’t really know where to position a horse to get its best run or how to think the race through.
“She is kind of the opposite, which is the best way to do it. You want to be smart first, and everything else can fall into place later.”
Case in point: Wednesday’s second race, a 5 ½-furlong, $16,000 claiming race for fillies and mares which had never won three races. The distance suggested that Rowland’s mount, the speedy 5-year-old mare Jara, would be best used by breaking on top and daring the other five horses to catch her.
Instead, Rowland let the race come to her, sensing quickly that the opening fractions set by duelers Lady Noy and Pretty Princess of 21.86 for the first quarter-mile and 45.52 for the half were too fast to sustain. Approaching the turn, Rowland sent Jara zooming up the rail, and they were 7 ¾ lengths clear of runner-up Lady Noy at the wire.
Rowland says several Oldsmar jockeys have been eager to mentor her, foremost among them Spanabel, Hector Rafael Diaz, Jr., and Jose Ferrer, the 2018 George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award winner. All might be fans under other circumstances, rooting for a young woman with dreams as big as Secretariat’s heart.
With Maddie, what you see is what you get. She works hard and practices skills and techniques to get better, but nothing is staged.
“The first thing I can say about her is that she is willing to listen and learn. She is willing to listen to everybody,” said multiple graded-stakes winning jockey Diaz. “And she pays a lot of attention when she is not riding. I know that what I tell her she puts into practice, because I see it happen.
“She has a long way ahead, of course, and the pounds (the apprentice weight allowance) are helping her,” Diaz said. “But the more she rides, the more she is going to learn and improve. And horses run for her. That’s partly the hands – I think most of the women jockeys, they aren’t trying to manhandle a horse, and they are able to work together because the horse is comfortable.
“Plus, she has been around horses her whole life, and she loves her job. You can see how happy she is when she’s atop a horse.”
So, Rowland – who finished fifth in today’s third race on a horse named And the Oscar Goes – would like to thank Skyler, and Hector and Mr. Ferrer, and the horsemen and fans for helping her win the Salt Rock Tavern Jockey of the Month award.
And, oh yeah, Mom too.
“She’s the one I don’t think I’ve given enough credit to, because she has completely been there for me and my brother (Hayden, 15),” Rowland said. “I would not be here if she had not given me the constructive criticism, the love and support and everything you want from a mother, times 10.”
Around the oval. The owner-trainer-jockey combination of Lea Farms, LLC, Jorge Delgado and Chantal Sutherland combined for back-to-back victories on today’s card. They won the fifth race on 3-year-old filly Sneaky Cheeky and grabbed the sixth on 4-year-old Florida-bred gelding Willy Boi.
Alonso Quinonez rode two winners. He captured the fourth race on Candy Cove, a 7-year-old gelding owned by Lower Hay Farms, Triple B Stables, Charlene Gabler, Kovalchuk Stables and David B. Jensen and trained by Tim Padilla. Quinonez added the ninth and final race on Mr. Mazza, a 5-year-old gelding owned by Cameron Beatty and trained by Jesse Cruz.
Thoroughbred racing continues Sunday with a nine-race card beginning at 12:08 p.m. Tampa Bay Downs races on a Wednesday-Friday-Saturday-Sunday schedule through May 7, with the exception of Easter Sunday, April 17, when the track is closed, and May 1, when the Thoroughbred action is limited to simulcasting.
Otherwise, the Oldsmar oval 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.