Thursday, February 12, 2004 12:00 AM
FLORENCE, KY . . . February 12, 2004 . . . The immutable laws of physics and physiology, of matter and mass, could not be undone. The force of a Thoroughbred in full flight and the fragility of the human body could not be denied.
But the memorial service for Michael Rowland yesterday at Turfway proved that those laws could—-nevertheless—-be trumped. In the midst of the somber service, with its “How Great Thou Art” and “Amazing Grace,” its prayer cards and pastoral vestments, the finality of “2004” after "1962-," love and poignant laughter took back the day.
The reason for the memorial service is too familiar now. Rowland was fatally injured February 4 when his mount in Turfway’s seventh race broke down and two riders behind him were unable to avoid him and the fallen horse as both lay on the track. Rowland died five days later, not long after midnight on February 9.
Reports have estimated the standing-room-only crowd gathered for the memorial at 350 and 400, but Turfway printed 500 memorial folders and not one was left. Track employees gave theirs away to jockeys who arrived after the supply ran out.
The crowd watched silently as Rowland’s daughter Randi, 20, struggled to get her voice around her tears. Then she smiled, and they smiled back, as she shared childhood memories of early mornings on the backside with her dad and his “big, goofy smile” as he rode by. “He loved his family, his friends, and the horses,” she said. “I cherish that he was a strong and happy person.”
His sister, Tracy Samuelson, surprised some in the crowd when she gave his date of birth as September 12, 1963—a year later than that officially recorded by the Jockey’s Guild. “At one point he wanted to be a year older than he was,” explained his mother, Cindy Briscoe.
Then to the podium came Rowland’s fellow jockeys, the ones in the room who fully understand the dangers their profession imposes and the exquisite balance and strength it requires. Tony Caminiti spoke what the service made plain: “His family is our family.” Speaking for the Turfway jockey colony, Billy Troilo said, “We have to professionally prepare ourselves to go back and ride. That’s what Mike would want us to do. We have to be strong enough to keep going. He will be with us. Our hearts will be with his family.”
And there it was, the triumph and the mystery. In the midst of pain and disguised as stories of affection and humor, of pranks and competition, the promise to remember beat back the finality of loss.
“The ties of love do not unravel at death,” said Frank Niehaus, a Catholic priest who owns horses on the Turfway backside.
Indeed, they do not.