By Bob Ehalt
There are a few female jockeys who will always be associated with their historic “firsts.” Diane Crump was the first female jockey to ride in a sanctioned race and the first woman to ride in the Kentucky Derby. Julie Krone became the first female rider to win a Triple Crown race when she guided Colonial Affair to victory in the 1993 Belmont Stakes. Jockey Rosie Napravnik was the first woman to win the Kentucky Oaks, capturing the 2012 edition with Believe You Can.
But how about an Eclipse Award? Who was the first female rider to win an Eclipse Award?
The answer could be a stumper, unless you followed the Florida circuit on a regular basis 25 years ago. Then, through seeing her win races with aplomb on a daily basis and ride as well as anyone on the circuit, you could probably guess the answer.
It was in 1992 that Rosemary Homeister Jr. achieved a first for a female rider by winning the Eclipse Award as the outstanding apprentice jockey.
That breakthrough honor signaled the start of a highly successful riding career from 1992-2015 that saw her win 2,784 races and blow a kiss to the track’s television cameras after each of them. All the while she earned respect as a jockey who had the proper mix of skill, talent, and determination to be a top rider on one most well-known and competitive circuits in North America.
She was born on July 5, 1972, in Hollywood, Fla., and was destined to be a jockey. Her father, James Homeister, was a rider who collected more than 500 wins, while her mother, Rosemary Homeister Sr., rode in 29 races from 1977-81 and registered her first and only win on Winning News at Calder on Jan. 7, 1978.
Inspired by her mother, Homeister began exercising horses and breaking horses as a teenager.
In 1992, she began riding as an apprentice at Calder and enjoyed great success. She won 172 races that year and compiled $1,769,063 in earnings while winning the riding title at the Tropical at Calder meet and gained enough national attention to be voted as the recipient of an Eclipse Award.
She spent her first summer as an apprentice at Monmouth Park and was the top apprentice rider during her first two years at the Jersey Shore track.
After her sensational debut in 1992, Homeister won 100 or more races in 11 of the next 12 years. Aside from all those wins on a regular basis, she also won more than 100 stakes in her career, 13 of them in graded stakes.
Among those black-type wins were triumphs in the 2002 Grade 2 Davona Dale aboard Ms Brookski, the 2002 Grade 2 La Prevoyante on New Economy and the 2009 Grade 2 William L. McKnight on Cloudy’s Knight.
She led all female jockeys in wins in 2000-01 and in 2001 became the only female jockey to win the riding title at Hialeah.
Homeister reached the pinnacle of the sport in 2003 when she was given the mount on Supah Blitz in the Kentucky Derby. Though Supah Blitz finished 13th behind Funny Cide, Homeister basked in the glow of becoming just the fifth female to ride in the run for the roses.
In 2011, Homeister announced she was pregnant and put her career on hold to give birth to her daughter, Victoria Rose, at the age of 39.
She returned in 2012 and had one of her best years, winning 125 races with earnings of $3,280,647.
Homeister slowed the pace the next few years before retiring in 2015. Yet before the curtain came down, she recorded one last graded stakes win, taking the Grade 3 Fantasy Stakes at Oaklawn on Include Betty.
Her career came to a close on Sept. 26, 2015, when she rode Spark Kit to a second-place finish in the eighth race at Arlington Park, an ironic end to a stellar career for a woman who deserves to be remembered for a historic first.