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Jockey Rosemary Homeister Jr. balancing motherhood with racing career

Jockey Rosemary Homeister Jr. celebrates victory with 9-month-old daughter VictoriRose. | Four Footed Fotos

Jockey Rosemary Homeister Jr. celebrates a victory with 9-month-old daughter Victoria Rose. | Four Footed Fotos

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Updated: July 25, 2012 6:07AM

It couldn’t have come at a more inopportune time.

Jockey Rosemary Homeister Jr. found out she was pregnant at the peak of her career.

‘‘The week before I found out, I rode six races and won five,’’ Homeister, 39, said. ‘‘I was stunned, and I was in shock. I went through an emotional roller coaster. In racing, you don’t want to lose your business.’’

Homeister gave birth to Victoria Rose nine months ago. And what was a terrifying thought at first — a surprise pregnancy — turned into one of the best things that could have happened to her.

Whatever doubts Homeister had about getting back on a horse as a new mother disappeared in her first few weeks racing at Arlington.

In her first season at Arlington, Homeister earned her 2,500th career victory May 22 aboard Eastern Precipice. Homeister, the second-winningest female jockey of all time behind Julie Krone, has 18 victories this meet, good for a tie for third in the jockey standings.

‘‘When I got here, I was seven or eight [victories] away [from 2,500],’’ Homeister said. ‘‘[On the milestone victory], I got to the quarter-pole and thought, ‘2,500!’ It was like I never won a race before.’’

Homeister’s parents, Rosemary and the late James Homeister, were jockeys and had their daughter involved in horse racing most of her life. Homeister always was told, ‘‘You’re going to be a jockey.’’

But Homeister did entertain thoughts of computer programming, a 180-degree difference from breaking yearlings. She took a computer class at a junior college in Florida, then realized how much she hated being away from the horses.

Homeister won her first race at 19 in 1992 at Calder Race Course outside Miami and became the first woman to win the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Apprentice Jockey later that year. She was originally the runner-up, but winner Jesus Bracho of Venezuela was suspended, then surrendered his award for falsifying his racing papers.

‘‘It put a damper on racing,’’ Homeister said. ‘‘They were going to mail me the Eclipse Award, but my mom wouldn’t have that. Two years later, I went to the awards ceremony to accept the award.’’

Eric Reed, a trainer who works throughout the Midwest, Kentucky and New York, is one of Homeister’s closest friends. He said gender bias today isn’t the issue it might have been early in Homeister’s career.

Reed did recall a time when an owner refused to allow Homeister to race his horse. Reed tried multiple times to persuade the owner that having Homeister in the saddle was the way to go, but the owner still refused. When no top male jockeys were available to ride the horse, Reed tabbed Homeister anyway.

‘‘I did talk him into it,’’ Reed said. ‘‘When I told Rosemary, she said, ‘Oh, that’s the guy who doesn’t want chicks to ride.’ She ended up winning the race, and she blew the owner a kiss when they showed her on television from the winner’s circle.’’

Despite the cachet Arlington holds for jockeys and trainers, Homeister chose to race there for her daughter. Arlington’s meet runs about five months, longer than most meets on the East Coast, where Homeister raced in the past. She routinely would be driving up and down the Eastern seaboard, and that isn’t the most conducive kind of life for raising a child. At Arlington, Homeister can race four days a week and have three days with her daughter.

‘‘She’s handling this a lot better than I expected,’’ Reed said. ‘‘She gets so emotional when Victoria is around because she was originally told that she couldn’t have children. And now she’s more driven than ever.’’

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