by Mike Henry

Sunday is the first day of the rest of Maddie Rowland’s life.

Her new life, as a journeywoman jockey.

Today marked an entire year since her fifth career victory, meaning the 19-year-old can no longer ride with an apprentice weight allowance that has made her services valuable to a wide number of trainers.


Maddie Rowland

It’s typical for horsemen to flee from newly-turned journeymen and journeywomen riders, unless they’re blessed with Steve Cauthen-esque talent. Rowland may have already discovered that truth, as she is named to ride one horse today and two on Wednesday.

Her business had already slowed during a zero-for-58 stretch at Tampa Bay Downs from mid-December through Jan. 22 (she won a race on Jan. 14 at Gulfstream aboard Bahamian Moon for owners Ridenjac Racing and David F. Kegley and trainer Carlos David).

Rowland finally broke her Oldsmar dry spell Friday in dramatic fashion, winning the eighth race on 67-1 shot Commander Keith for owner Jim Thomas and trainer Brian Lusk. Fans surrounding the winner’s circle applauded warmly for Rowland, fans who remember how she took Tampa Bay Downs by storm last season by finishing ninth in the standings with 34 victories, earning a Jockey of the Month Award and riding four winners here on the May 7 Kentucky Derby Day card.

Fans who like rooting for a teenager who is not afraid to challenge the established forces.

Rowland described it as a “significant” victory, effectively bringing her apprentice career (she finished out of the money on her only mount today) to an end. The memories of those successes will endure, but she knows it is time to move forward and show that the grit and the armor she’s acquired through the recent tough times can make her a force to be reckoned with.

“The ‘bug’ (apprentice weight allowance) taught me what it is there to do. It gave me a year, the best and worst year of my life,” she said, laughing. “Mostly the best, but also hard. I’m really excited now to see how I do as a journeyman, because I want this to be the career of my life. I don’t want to just settle. I want to keep improving, and the only way to improve is to go out of your comfort zone.

“For me, that’s becoming a journeyman. (Business) might slow down and then pick back up, but I’m still riding for good people and am getting amazing opportunities that I’m thankful for.”

Rowland’s agent, former jockey Eddie Joe Zambrana, is confident Rowland will find a new comfort zone and again be sought out by trainers who win races on a regular basis. “I have a lot of confidence in her. I think that as soon as she wins two or three races without the bug, she is going to keep going,” Zambrana said.

Zambrana said the overall quality of riders at the track, along with the arrival of jockeys with 7 and 10-pound weight allowances (Rowland has had a 5-pound allowance this season), has made it harder for her to win races. Although she has won only three, 14 seconds and 15 thirds give her a respectable 33.3 in-the-money percentage.

Zambrana assures her fans there is much to believe in. “She’s going to be OK. She just has to work a little harder to show people she can keep doing well without the bug,” he said. “She’s really, really smart and she knows what she’s doing on a horse, so I don’t think it’s going to be a problem for her.

“She tries hard and she wants to do better, so that helps, too,” Zambrana said.

Rowland says her slump, if you want to call it that, has added a layer of steely armor to her psyche, which every jockey must nurture to bring out their best. She knows she has gotten better switching her stick from one hand to the other, being patient during a race, seeking out the best trip on the turf and being more aware of her competition.

But she also wants to stay strong mentally no matter what comes up, attaching herself to people who share her ambitions and can help her achieve them.

“You really just have to keep going,” Rowland said. “Stuff does not fall in your lap in this game. You want it to. … but at the end of the day, you have to go for it. You have to be the one to show up at the barn with confidence and walk into the paddock with the mindset that ‘You know what? I can do this because I know I’m a good rider.’ ”

Rowland and Zambrana know she needs to prove, again, she is capable of producing more of those happy times like Friday on Commander Keith.

The fun for Rowland and her fans may be just beginning – starting Sunday, the first day of her new existence.

Around the oval. Leading Oldsmar jockey Samy Camacho rode two winners today. He won the fifth race on Shaq Diesel, a 3-year-old Florida-bred colt owned by Chester A. Bishop, Anthony Hinkson and Donovan Stanford and trained by Renaldo Richards.

Camacho added the eighth on the turf with Up Her Sleeve, a 4-year-old filly owned by Flying P Stable and trained by Jose H. Delgado.

Trainer Richards added another victory in the 10th race on the turf with 5-year-old gelding Go Mike, owned by Paula S. Capestro and ridden by Jose Batista.

Thoroughbred racing continues Sunday with a nine-race card beginning at 12:32 p.m. The track is open every day for simulcast wagering, no-limits action and tournament play in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.