Rosemary Homeister Jr. has flown 2,700 miles for her first Marathon. She plans to return with a win.
One of Tampa Bay Downs' top riders in recent years, and thoroughbred racing's second all-time leading female rider, Homeister makes her debut in the 26th Breeders' Cup World Championships today at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, Calif. She takes Cloudy's Knight to the post in the $500,000 Marathon for Hall of Fame trainer Jonathan Sheppard.
"It's going to be a great experience for me," Homeister said. "But I've got winning on my mind."
The Marathon (3:35 p.m.) is the first of 14 Breeders' Cup races today and Saturday. The 13/4-mile event is for older males, one of six races today. Saturday's eight-race card concludes with the $5 million Classic, featuring undefeated mare Zenyatta, Belmont/Travers/Jockey Club Gold Cup winner Summer Bird, Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird and European invader Rip Van Winkle.
A total of $25.5 million in purses is at stake. All races will be simulcast at the Downs in Oldsmar, Derby Lane in St. Petersburg and Tampa Greyhound Track.
Homeister, 37, runnerup in the Oldsmar standings the past two years, will be joined by three former Downs' riding champs. Jose Lezcano is on Maram today in the Filly and Mare Turf (5:23 p.m.). On Saturday, Willie Martinez rides Noble's Promise in the Juvenile (3:49), and Manoel Cruz is aboard Mambo Meister in the Dirt Mile (5:12).
Cloudy's Knight, a 9-year-old gelded turf specialist, is the 8-1 co-fourth, early line choice in the 10-horse Marathon. He qualified with a win in the Sycamore Stakes on Oct. 22 at Keeneland in Lexington, Ky. It was his second 2009 start after a year layoff due to injury.
"He has got a ton of ability and is very, very game," Homeister said. "We're running on a different surface (synthetic), but Jonathan is a great conditioner."
The Marathon will be a Homeister career highlight, comparable to her ride in the 2003 Kentucky Derby (Supah Blitz was 13th). ESPN racing commentator Jerry Bailey said: "Rosemary has been around the block enough times. Once you've experienced a Kentucky Derby, the rest of it you should be able to take in stride."
If Homeister wins, she'll blow a kiss to the camera, aimed at her ailing 92-year-old grandfather, Frank Sangi. He is recuperating from bronchial pneumonia and will watch the race from a Kearny, N.J., rehabilitation center. He is apart from his wife, Phyllis, who is at a different facility.
While the search continues for a nursing home that will accept both, Homeister shared a special moment with her grandfather Monday. "He kept holding my hand, saying, 'You are my everything,' " Homeister said. "I said, 'You are, too, Grandpa.' "
GREYHOUNDS: The $20,000 Fall Juvenile Stakes resumes Saturday night (Races 6 and 10) at Derby Lane.