Updated on 09/16/2011 7:49AM

Plenty of wins (and kisses)


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - If horse racing is basically a backyard game spiced by a handful of nationally recognized personalities, why isn't Rosemary Homeister one of them?

Blame Rosemary.

As the only woman to win an Eclipse Award for jockeys, a two-time leader of south Florida meets and a perennial contender, Homeister offers the complete public relations package. At 30, she is the daughter of two jockeys, wife of another, attractive, well-spoken, intellectually curious, and relentlessly upbeat. If she plied her trade in New York or Los Angeles, Madison Avenue might even take notice.

But she is also the ultimate homebody. Her comfort zone does not extend too far past south Florida, where she was born, raised, and lives in a new home out toward the Everglades. There is no seasonal upheaval in her life, no living out of cartons and crates. Her primary travel takes place on dark days every two weeks when she visits her husband, Jose Ferrer, who is among the top riders at Monmouth Park.

It's not like she's dodging a challenge. Homeister mixes it up with the marquee names at Gulfstream Park every winter. But when they leave town for points north, Homeister stays behind for the long haul at Calder from April to the New Year.

Now, Calder Race Course is not exactly Podunk Park. It is located at the growing edge of westward development in northern Miami-Dade County, right next door to Pro Player Stadium. A recent visit there revealed an attractive facility, an energetic management, and enough regulars in the daily crowd to keeps things hopping, even in the heavy summer heat. Homeister works her turf like a politician. She picks out faces along the rails, points, waves, and calls out names. If she wins, she flashes a peace sign and blows a kiss at the simulcast cameras. The kiss is for her grandfather back in New Jersey, a regular at The Meadowlands Intertrack. The peace sign is for everyone else.

Last Saturday was a three-smack day. Homeister tripled on the Summit of Speed program, winning the first, the last, and the $50,000 Comet Stakes in between. On Sunday, she came right back with three more winners. Kiss kiss kiss.

Six wins in two days nudged her higher in the Calder standings, but still found her far behind Cornelio Velasquez. Homeister finished second to Velasquez for last year's title. This season she spotted him 25 days while her right arm healed after an accident at Gulfstream in February.

"I was lucky," she said, displaying a scarred forearm that already contained a steel plate from an earlier fracture. The new break occurred right at the base of the plate.

"When I went down, I figured the horse would be coming over me next. I felt the first two legs hit me, and I knew there were still two more to come. I actually got hit right on the old break, where the plate is, otherwise it might have been worse.

"The first three weeks back it was still pretty sore," she added. "But now I'm riding strong."

No question about that. Homeister is classically schooled and looks the part. There is snap to her finish, authority in her stick and poise in her approach to the intricacies of pace. There is also the same old story, even after winning 1,482 races in 11 years of competition.

"If a girl wins, it's still a big deal, because she's a girl," Homeister said. "And if she loses, it's because she's a girl. It's magnified both ways, and I don't think that will ever change."

Sometimes, it is a very big deal. For all her Florida popularity, Homeister never experienced anything remotely as giddy as the events surrounding her victory last Dec. 9 aboard the filly Alexia in the Clasico Internacional del Caribe at El Commandante Racetrack in San Juan.

"A girl had never ridden in the race, and a filly had never won," Homeister said. "My husband is from there and rode there, and even he had never had a chance to ride in the race.

"On a regular day, they might have 500 people at the track," she went on. "On the day of the race they had a record crowd of over 15,000. It felt like their Kentucky Derby. When I won, I was speechless - in both English and what little Spanish I know."

Okay, so she's been to the top of the mountain, at least in Puerto Rico. Homeister admits to at least one keen ambition that would pry her away from home: to ride in the Kentucky Derby.

But big fish in small ponds rarely get the chance. Russell Baze, David Gall, Carl Gambardella - between them they've got more than 22,000 wins and exactly one Kentucky Derby mount.

"I just have to hope and pray that the people I ride for regularly get a Derby horse," Homeister said. "It's more likely they will stick with me than someone I don't ride for as much. If someone wanted Jerry Bailey instead of Rosemary Homeister for the Derby, I would totally understand.

"I used to stress out a lot," she added. "My husband has helped me with that. Now I know that there is more to life than just racing, and I just want to appreciate what I have."