From Barbados to British Columbia, Rocco Bowen has been places, and the itinerant jockey has brought his tack to Arlington for the first time this summer. Bowen already has carved a niche in the 2021 jockey colony, with 14 winners from his first 75 mounts. That’s good for fourth in the local standings entering the race card of July 2, and Bowen trails Declan Carroll, who has ridden 25 more horses at the meet, by three winners, and Chris Emigh, who has ridden 23 more than Bowen, by two. But Bowen is aiming higher.
“I have a shot at the title. Loveberry is going to be tough to catch, but that’s what I’m here for,” said Bowen.
“Loveberry” is Jareth Loveberry, the main rider for runaway leading trainer Larry Rivelli, and a winner of 35 races already this meet. Everyone needs goals, though, and if Bowen thinks he can make a run at Loveberry, more power to him.
In the end, Bowen, 32, is just grateful to be back in the saddle again. He didn’t ride at all during 2019 and missed the better part of two years after a rein broke while he was working a horse during morning trainer and his mount went over the outside fence.
“I was out for 25 minutes. I don’t really remember any of it at all,” Bowen said. “I rode the next two weeks but I was hurt really bad and I knew I had to get my head fixed. The doctors, they couldn’t really find out what was wrong. Five or six doctors, no one would clear me to ride. They were trying to write me off, but I didn’t want to give up.”
Bowen had no feeling in three fingers on one hand and a limited range of motion in the same arm. Physical therapy and rehab seemed to make his situation worse, not better, but Bowen eventually got green-lighted to resume riding and came back in 2020. Late in the year, Bowen picked up a new agent – new to him, and new to the profession. Joe Steiner was a 35-year veteran jockey when he rode with Bowen at Emerald Downs in Washington during 2015 and 2016, the last two years of his career. The two forged a friendship and Steiner served as Bowen’s “coach,” as Steiner termed it, after Bowen moved his tack to the Midwest.
“I was very much impressed by Rocco’s talent. I told him he needed to step into the bigger leagues,” said Steiner.
Bowen during the summer of 2020 rode at Indiana Grand, winning 21 races there. In the fall, he asked Steiner to become his agent, a job he’d never held nor had any real desire to inhabit.
“It’s only because of Rocco I decided to become an agent, but I like to help people – that’s my calling,” said Steiner. “It turned out to be a good occupation for me. I enjoy working with the people, and the racetrack’s a big family, no matter where you are. I rode at 52 tracks and met a lot of people, and I’m very open to meeting more people. That’s how you have to be. I’d say that I’m not your normal agent.”
Bowen was born and raised in Barbados, where he began his jockey career at age 15, learning the trade on the five-furlong, right-handed bull-ring turf course used there. “That track will teach you to ride. You got to be fearless to ride there. Next to the first turn is literally a brick wall where they saddle the horses,” Bowen said.
Bowen emigrated to British Columbia in 2007, riding at Hastings Park, and came to American in 2010, becoming leading rider at Portland Meadows and Emerald and riding some in California. But when he returned from his injury in 2020, he had to remake his skills.
“Didn’t feel the same at all. I still don’t have full range of motion in my hand, and I had to start using the whip differently,” Bowen said.
But Bowen has looked smooth on both Arlington Polytrack and the grass course. He’s ridden some at Indiana Grand, too, which has a different race week than Arlington’s, but Chicago is where his focus lies right now. He and Steiner’s client base has expanded, and Bowen has ridden winners for several different Chicago horsemen.
“He’s very intelligent and an astute rider. I’m impressed with him,” said trainer Michele Boyce.
Bowen might not be able to move quite like he did before he got hurt, but his unique career trajectory is going in the right direction again.
Hollands, Boyce have drawing on long lines
Cat Attack looks like a pretty nice 3-year-old filly, especially in the Illinois-bred ranks. She’s made only five starts, just one this season, but it’s not like her connections still are getting to know her.
Michele Boyce trains Cat Attack and also trained her mother, Kitty’s Castle, but the connection to this horse runs far deeper for her owners and breeders, Steve and Diane Holland. The Hollands, who race as S.D. Brilie, first came into Cat Attack’s equine family when they acquired a filly named Really Blessed, a foal of 1986. Really Blessed begat the filly Holy Kitten, a useful filly trained by Christine Janks for the Hollands, and Holy Kitten begat Kitty’s Castle, who was trained by Janks until the tail end of her racing career, when Boyce took the helm.
“I had her for a couple races and she became deathly ill with colic,” Boyce said. “They did not think she would survive. She went into shock, and it was just horrible. To everybody’s surprise, they were able to save her, and it’s looking like a blessing for the Hollands. I feel very positive about Kitty’s Castle as a broodmare.”
In addition to Cat Attack, Kitty’s Castle has produced the 2-year-old Midshipman filly, Purr Sea, who’s up to a half-mile in her breezes and appears to have talent, Boyce said.
As for Cat Attack, a daughter of Get Stormy, she performed decently last summer sprinting on turf at Arlington, struggled a bit trying Hawthorne dirt racing, but won a two-turn turf maiden there in late November by more than 10 lengths. Like much of Boyce’s stock, she was sent to Janks’ Carson Springs Farm in Florida for a winter holiday before going back into training, and Cat Attack, making her 3-year-old debut June 21, nicely won an open turf-sprint allowance race. Now, Boyce wants to find a way to keep Cat Attack separated from another Illinois-bred 3-year-old turf filly, Katie M’Lady, another horse Boyce knows from previous generations. It’s not a bad problem to have.
Like so many racing folks, Patti Miller, longtime Chicago horsewoman, had a rough 2020. Uncertain when or if Arlington would open during the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic, Miller had to find something to do with her small string of horses and wound up at the Ashwood training center outside Lexington, Kentucky.
“It was a disaster,” said Miller, whose late husband, Danny Miller, had a long stint as a trainer, working, for a time, for the uber-owner Frank Calabrese. “The Thoroughbred Training Center there was full, and I had to go somewhere. There were no riders there, the track wasn’t any good. I guess we survived it.”
Arlington did, of course, open in 2020, but it was closed to Miller-trained winners: She went 0-24 at the abbreviated meeting. But 2021 has been an entirely different story. Miller has a nine-horse string, two of which haven’t started at the meet, yet already has won six races from 18 runners.
“It’s been fun so far,” Miller said, trying not to look to far into the future, since there’s no assurance of racing during 2022 at Arlington. “I don’t know what I’ll do if that happens. It might be time for me to find a real job and live like a normal person.”