For O’Connell’s many fans, including jockey Antonio Gallardo, it represents enough positive memories to fill several scrapbooks.

“I was talking to my wife yesterday and I said I really want it to be me, because she has done a lot for me and my family,” said Gallardo, who burst into prominence in 2013 by winning four consecutive stakes on a single card at Calder Race Course, the last three for O’Connell. She encouraged him to winter at Tampa Bay Downs, and her ongoing support helped him win five riding titles here.

“She has been like my mom. I’m pretty excited,” the rider said.

So were the well-wishers who lined O’Connell’s path to the racetrack after Gallardo scored a half-length victory aboard Florida-bred gelding My Eagle Soars  in the fifth race March 12, a sprint for maiden claiming 3-year-olds. The victory was No. 2,386 in O’Connell’s career, breaking a tie with the still-active Hammond.

My Eagle Soars breaks his maiden while trainer Kathleen O'Connell becomes North America's all-time winning female trainer on Sunday, March 12, 2023 at Tampa Bay Downs
Photo: SV Photography

My Eagle Soars breaks his maiden at Tampa Bay Downs

What was O’Connell thinking about? Maybe the resistance women faced in the industry early in her career, or the amazing stakes victories, or all the beautiful and lasting relationships she has forged in her chosen profession. And maybe her late parents Arlene and Joseph, who wanted her to go to college but supported her career choice every step of the way.

“Everything, and nothing. Because it’s just been a wonderful ride. It’s not only about the destination, it’s the journey getting there,” she said.

O’Connell didn’t have any special instructions for Gallardo beforehand. “I gave him the usual directions—do the best you can with what you’ve got.”

You could tell by Gallardo’s voice how much this meant to him, and by extension, to O’Connell’s friends and rivals. She has always handled victory and defeat with grace and humility, and she has treated each of the horses in her care with the kindness and concern that elevate the sport.

“When he broke good (from the No. 3 post in the 10-horse field) and I put him in gear, he took the bit, and I was like, you know what, I have a lot of chance,” he said. “I made the lead a little bit early because the horse in front of me stopped, and when I felt the horse on my outside (Awesome Prince), I switched my whip to the left and my horse was game. I’m like, I got it, I got it, I got it. But I’m asking for the wire, trust me.”

“So was I,” O’Connell said, laughing.

My Eagle Soars breaks his maiden while trainer Kathleen O'Connell becomes North America's all-time winning female trainer on Sunday, March 12, 2023 at Tampa Bay Downs
Photo: SV Photography

My Eagle Soars and Kathleen O’Connell walk to the winner’s circle at Tampa Bay Downs

My Eagle Soars, owned by the Kathleen O’Connell Racing Stable in partnership with P and G Zambelli, and bred in Florida by Stonehedge, paid $14.40 to win after completing the six furlongs in 1:11.86.

O’Connell, who began training on her own in 1981, has twice been the leading trainer at Tampa Bay Downs. She also won a title at Calder. She currently trains about 60 horses between Tampa Bay Downs and Gulfstream Park.

She has won nine graded stakes, three from 1997-2000 by Blazing Sword , a product of the late Gilbert G. Campbell’s breeding and racing operation that became synonymous with O’Connell. Among her other graded victories were the 2011 Tampa Bay Derby (G2) with Watch Me Go ; the 2003 Bonnie Miss Stakes (G2), with Ivanavinalot ; the 2019 Sam F. Davis Stakes (G3) with Well Defined ; and back-to-back runnings of the Princess Rooney Stakes (G2) in 2018 and 2019 with Stormy Embrace .