Flowers are certainly a part of the biggest early season weekend for three-year old Thoroughbreds. With the finest in this division descending on Churchill Downs come the first weekend in May, two of the most coveted prizes in the sport are up for grabs. Everybody wants to enjoy the blanket of lilies on Oaks day and then sniff the roses as they are draped over the back of the Derby winner about 24 hours later. The horse is of course a key element , but the rider is also a big factor that often times can determine wagering interests. So if you are unsure about which pony to pick, consider a jockey that has really blossomed of late.
It is way early in the long and twisting journey that leads to the hallowed twin spires of Louisville, Kentucky, but it is never too soon to start thinking about Kentucky Oaks and Derby possibilities. The 21st century has brought some unexpected results in the world of Thoroughbred racing and lodged right in the middle of all that has been an up and coming jockey named Rosie Napravnik…Wait a minute…did we say Rosie?
In what has long been a male dominated sport, Rosie Napravnik has flexed the muscle for girl power. In just the last three years, this New Jersey native has finished higher in the Kentucky Derby than any female ever, won a Breeders’ Cup race and also became the first female jockey to win the Kentucky Oaks. Refusing to be intimidated by anyone, this feisty little filly (5 feet 1 111 pounds) has smelled the sweet success of a lot of hard work.
Finishing ninth aboard Pants on Fire in the 2011 Kentucky Derby set a record for highest female jockey finish in the world’s most famous horse race. Then a fifth place finish aboard My Lute last year eclipsed her own mark and that is a testament to the skills of Rosie Napravnik as she was originally slated to ride Juvenile champ Shanghai Bobby. But the greatest accomplishment beneath the twin spires for the record holder for most wins and earnings in a season for a female jockey (2012) came in the 2012 Kentucky Oaks. Ironically enough, Rosie dashed down the home stretch and became the first female rider to win the Oaks aboard a horse called Believe You Can.
“Winning the Kentucky Oaks on Believe You Can was the most memorable moment of my career,” says Napravnik. “Riding that filly through the preps and having come so close to winning the year before as runner-up (St. John’s River) we knew it was possible. Being able to accomplish that for my own personal sense of knowing where I have come from and the challenges I have faced was very rewarding. It just solidified all the hard work and flashed the question of possibility.”
With that magical weekend just a little over 60 days away now, Napravnik looks primed for another run at Oaks and Derby glory. As the regular rider for a very promising Steve Asmussen trained filly named Untapable, Rosie and her Rachel Alexandra Stakes winner currently sit atop the Oaks leaderboard (60 points). On the Derby side of things, Napravnik rides Vicar’s In Trouble for trainer Mike Maker and he is currently in the fifth spot (20 points) in the Kentucky Derby points standings.
There is no doubt this is very exciting time for all of those people in the horse business, but as experience has taught her, Rosie does not get too encompassed with the fever that runs rampant this time of year.
“I have learned over the past three years that things definitely doesn’t go the way they are planned,” says Napravnik. “The first year I rode in the Derby I picked up Pants On Fire just before the Louisiana Derby and we won and then went straight to Kentucky when I had no idea before that I was going to get there. Last year I thought it was going to be Shanghai Bobby but he was injured and then I picked up My Lute late and we had a great finish. Foe me, the fever is not really Kentucky fever but just the fever of the prep season. I enjoy watching and riding in the prep races and then I just try to sit back and see how things are going to happen.”
Early indications are there will be plenty of stuff happening for this blossoming star.