OLDSMAR — When she was pregnant with her first child and 50 pounds heavier, Rosemary Homeister Jr. thought her riding career was in jeopardy.
That weight is no longer on her shoulders.
Homeister, 39 — North America's second all-time leading female jockey, behind Julie Krone — won her first stakes as a mother Saturday at Tampa Bay Downs. As the track kicked off its 86th season, Homeister reached the milestone with her 2,439th career win, aboard Jenny's So Great in the $75,000 Lightning City.
The win came 105 days after daughter Victoria Rose was born, and it was her first victory at the Downs since leaving the track in February. "Now it's not Jockey Rose, it's Mama Rose," Homeister said, laughing.
Five-time leading trainer Jamie Ness was perfect on the picture-perfect-weather day, winning with all three starters (Phil's Tango, Race 4; Mindy Michelle, Race 6, and Rich Hero, Race 9). Jockey Leandro Goncalves visited the winner's circle four times (Why Pretend, Race 2, Heiko, Race 5; Mindy Michelle; and Rich Hero).
"It's always good to get off to a good start," said Ness, 37, second behind Steve Asmussen this year nationally in wins. "(The Downs) is my home track. I've got a great owner (Midwest Thoroughbreds) and a great staff."
Homeister followed trainer Jason Servis' instructions perfectly in the Lightning City, a 5-furlong turf test for older fillies and mares.
Told to keep Jenny's So Great ($7.80) behind early, Homeister had the 4-year-old Greatness filly ninth among 11 sprinters through 3 furlongs. But the Canadian-bred made a middle move around the turn and surged to the front between rivals.
Jenny's So Great, a Grade III winner, finished one length in front of Supreme in 56.02 seconds. Defending champion Suzzona and Bounding Bi wound up in a dead heat for third. A winner from 23 career starts, Jenny's So Great raised her earnings to $606,875 with the $45,000 paycheck for owners Vicki and Bill Poston.
"I was 162 pounds when I had (Victoria Rose)," said Homeister, who also won with Vanquisher in Race 10. "It was very frustrating when you're a rider. You're used to maintaining a certain weight. But the last 2 1/2 months, I was up in Kentucky. Eric Reed and his wife, Kay, got me fit and ready to ride. I'm just so happy to be back at Tampa Bay Downs, and to win the opening-day stakes is awesome."
All-source handle for the 11-race card was $4,393,255. Attendance was 4,869.
The meet began with Noah's Expense breaking her maiden in Race 1 under Irwin Rosendo. With owner-trainer Lloyd Lockhart in Massachusetts, his grandson Alan Lockhart, 24, represented the family.
"I can't put (winning the first race of a meet) into words," Alan said. "I've never been interviewed before, so I'm a little nervous."