Now that Orb has won the Kentucky Derby, hopes are high that his hooves will grace the Pimlico track on Preakness Day, too. But many eyes will also be watching a two-legged star with a local tie, jockey Rosie Napravnik.
Pimlico is Napravnik’s old stomping ground where she first cut her teeth as a teenager working with local trainers like Dickie Smalls, and much hay has been made over her stellar rise in a sport that remains male-dominated. When she started riding, she did so as “A.R. Napravnik” because she didn’t want it known that she was a woman. Now the petite redhead is very much in the limelight.
On Derby Day, she placed fifth on a horse called Mylute, the best finish ever for a woman jockey. (She set the previous record for best female finish at Derby in 2011 when she came in ninth.) She became the first female rider to win the prestigious Kentucky Oaks (the race for fillies that takes place the day before the Kentucky Derby) in 2012. She finished out last year as the eighth highest earner in North America, the only woman to get to such a prominent position in history.
Napravnik hails from New Jersey where she grew up with horses, but it was at Pimlico that her racing career gained momentum. When she was 16, she moved to Maryland and lived with her sister so she could exercise horses at the state’s tracks. She won her first race at Pimlico when she was just a junior at Hereford High School.
She rode in Maryland until 2008 and her time here was marked by triumphs, such as when she swept the rider standings at all four meets at Pimlico and Laurel Park. But she proved she was more than a pretty face when she bounced back from horrific injuries including a broken collarbone and a spinal compression and fracture.
There’s a chance Napravnik will ride her Derby mount in the Preakness, though a final decision hasn’t been made. She’ll no doubt have several mounts both Friday and Saturday of race weekend. But whether she wins or loses, she’s a woman to watch.