Rosemary Homeister Jr. feared motherhood might end her career as a winning jockey, but if anything, the arrival of Victoria Rose nine months ago has made her stronger.
Homeister Jr. -- who has the second best win record among female jockeys in the world -- changed her diet and started working with a trainer the first week after giving birth. She not only lost the 50 pounds she gained during pregnancy, but she also added strength.
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She now weighs 108 pounds, "lighter than I was before I had the baby," she says. "I changed my diet and cut out fats and carbs, but most of all I eat four meals a day at the right times."
Best of all, the 39-year-old who will achieve 2,500 career wins this year, her first season at Arlington Park, has her daughter.
"The love that I feel from her and her smiles are the best things about being a mother," Homeister says.
This is also the first Mother's Day for Homeister's friend, Inez Karlsson, who has won more races at Arlington Park than any female jockey. Since the birth of Sophia last July, Karlsson concentrates on riding at Hawthorne Racetrack in Cicero, closer to her Burr Ridge home, even though it means chilly winter rides.
"I was traveling with the horses; I could go wherever I wanted," says the Sweden native who started racing in this area in 2007. "But now I have a family, and this is my home. I have to settle down, but I love Chicago."
Homeister Jr., 39, did not plan to get pregnant and was "very stressed" when she got the news.
With the advice of Eric Reed, a Kentucky owner and trainer whose horses race at Arlington, Homeister chose Arlington Park for the summer season.
"I needed a place that I could ride all season, not moving around all the time, so I could spend more time with my daughter and not have to be riding day and night," she says. "Arlington has four days of racing a week, so I get three days to be with Victoria Rose."
Homeister Jr.'s work life is hardly a typical day at the office.
She leaves her Streamwood home at 5 a.m. When she gets to Arlington Park, she rides a golf cart with her agent, Jay Feder, and his other client, Channing Hill, hustling mounts from barn to barn.
"I walk in and say, 'Hey Donny, how are you doing, can I get on a horse for you?' Usually they call my agent the night before, but sometimes they get busy or maybe somebody didn't show up."
She spends the morning giving three to six horses their workouts, goes home for a shower and to say hi to Victoria Rose, then comes back to ride five to eight races in the afternoon.
While Homeister Jr. has ridden in the Kentucky Derby and had the closest loss possible in the Breeders' Cup, she does not like to talk about place or show. For her it's all about that winner's circle, where her trademark is blowing a kiss up to the sky for her late grandparents. This year she also fingersigns a "V" for Victoria and blows another kiss.
"There are two brains working in this sport, the jockey's and the horse's," she says. "When the horse decides he doesn't want to go, you aren't going. I want to keep my horse happy, happy enough to win for me."
"It's a very long day if I don't win a race," Homeister Jr. adds. "How can I describe winning a race? You're so excited. It's a sense of exhilaration. The trainer's happy, the owner's happy.
"I have a passion for racing. I was born and raised in the racing industry."
Homeister's mother, also Rosemary, is a horse trainer. When the younger Homeister started as a jockey, some people thought her mother was riding other owners' horses, which would be a conflict of interest. The younger Rosemary added the "Jr." to her name to limit the confusion.
Homeister Jr. never thinks about injury, visualizing herself in the winner's circle, happy healthy and safe, but her friend, Karlsson, looks at things a differently.
"It's not all about me anymore," Karlsson says. "It's about my baby. I always worry about going down or getting hurt. Most jockeys do sooner or later."
Still, "I'm not scared riding, I'm cautious," she says. An important part of that caution is knowing the people you work for and trusting them to put her only on sound horses, says the 29-year-old.
Viewing the world from the top of a horse, maternity has not changed things much for Homeister Jr.
"I am a jockey," she says. "Not a female jockey. We compete with the men.
"This is probably the only sport where men and women compete equally. And I still have the same mind frame -- I've got to go out there and win!"
Jockeys: Women and men compete side by side