More than 300 people turned out at Turfway Park Wednesday to honor Mike Rowland, the jockey who died Monday after suffering extensive injuries in a spill at the track Feb. 4. A steady stream of jockeys, grooms, trainers, racing officials, Turfway Park employees, and family members pressed into the Homestretch Dining Room to participate in the service that celebrated Rowland and his life.
Perhaps most poignant was the sign Turfway Park had already prepared for Rowland in anticipation of his 4,000th win. At the time of his death he had 3,998 wins in his 25-year career. After the service, members of the Turfway Park jockey's colony autographed the sign for Rowland's family. Also on display were silks, a horseshoe, and a guitar all made out of flowers. Much of Rowland's family including his wife, Tammy, a trainer, his three daughters, his mother, and two sisters were in attendance.
Randi Rowland, Mike's 20-year-old daughter, remembered spending her summer vacations in Ohio, visiting from her home in Winnipeg, Canada.
"I would get up at 5 a.m. That was my time with him," she said. "All my friends thought it was crazy, but I would go to the track and I'd get stuck with the trainers while he rode. It was all worth it when he'd flash his big goofy smile as he galloped by on his horse.
"He loved his family, his friends, and the horses. Now he'll have the best view of the races of anybody."
Among his fellow jockeys, Rowland was known as a close friend, but also as the prankster of the group, whether at home, or in the jocks' room.
"He had a special set of clothes just for when an apprentice won their first race," said rider Tony Caminita. "He was king of initiating these riders. Some wished they won their first race at another track."
Rowland's pranks still follow him--many publications are reporting his birthdate as Sept. 12, 1962, when in fact he was born in 1963. "At one point he wanted to be a year older," said his mother, Cindy Briscoe.
Rowland was based at Thistledown, where he won 29 meet titles. He and his wife were both spending this winter at Turfway Park. Their last combined win, with Tammy as trainer and Mike as the rider, was with Lord Exitor on Jan. 3. The winner's circle photo from that race was on display at the service. Rowland was the first jockey to die at a Kentucky racetrack since 1979.
"Right now, one of our extended family is missing," said jockey Billy Troilo. "I know we have to professionally prepare to ride, but as a colony, when we ride every day, Mike will be with us."
At least two more events are planned in Rowland's honor, a benefit auction on Saturday evening at Mountaineer Park, and a memorial service at Thistledown at 11 a.m. Monday. For information about donating or participating in the Mountaineer auction, call Gary Johnson at (216) 402-2010.
Thistledown has also renamed the Quick Step Handicap the Michael Rowland Handicap. It will be run May 8. On April 8, the track will dedicate a tree in the outdoor paddock in Rowland's honor.