When most high school senior girls were trying to squeeze into their prom dresses two weeks ago, Rosie Napravnik was slipping on the blue and white silks of Michael Gill's racing stable and winning the last of five races on a Thursday afternoon at Pimlico Race Course.
With more than 200 wins at Laurel and Pimlico, Rosie Napravnik is the new queen of the sport of kings. (Photo courtesy of Jim McCue/ Maryland Jockey Club)
"Because this business is non-stop, it really hasn't totally sunk in yet what's happening," Napravnik said.
What's happening is A.R. (Anna Rose) Napravnik is the new queen of the sport of kings. She is known as a "bug" rider, racing talk for "apprentice" jockey. And though she may give up some weight in the saddle in her first year of riding, she doesn't give and inch on the track. She is tearing up this year's spring meet at Pimlico (48 wins in just 24 days) after doing the same this winter at Laurel Park (99 wins in 65 days). She's the fourth-leading rider in the country with 149 wins after a holiday weekend that featured five wins, seven seconds and five thirds. She just turned 18 in February, but is as cunning and as daring as any grizzled veteran. And, oh yeah, she usually sends the bettors home happy, having won more than $4 million in purses. "My goal is to be the best," Napravnik said.
Not the best apprentice, or the best female rider, but the best rider…period.
"I love winning," she says, "Who doesn't? But I know a lot of hard work goes into that. I learned that at a very young age growing up on my mom and dad's farm in New Jersey."
Charles and Cindy Napravnik's family farm in Morristown, N.J., was like a field of dreams for Napravnik and her older brother and sister. At age seven, she was cleaning stalls and training ponies and show horses. When she was nine, she was riding steeplechase races. As a 13-year-old, she spent a summer with Hall of Fame steeplechase trainer, Jonathan Sheppard.
When Napravnik was 15, her sister Jasmine (Jazz) left New Jersey for Baltimore and a job with local trainer Holly Robinson. Rosie soon joined Jazz, enrolled at Hereford High and lived with her sister on Robinson's farm in the Sparks section of Baltimore County.
"There was something in the way she did things," Robinson said. "This girl is different. She gets it. When there's a job to do or a hurdle in her way she says 'let's go to work. Let's get it done.'"
"I don't know what I'd be doing if my sister had not come down here and start working for Holly," Napravnik said.
Napravnik wasn't here long before the Robinson sent her to the Pimlico Barn of Dickie Small, one of the premiere trainers in the country and a 30-year veteran of Maryland racing. She would be at Small's barn by 5 a.m., get to school around 9 a.m., then go back to the farm before going to night school from 6-10 a.m.
"Rosie overslept one day and missed night school and they were going to kick her out," Robinson said. "So I wrote a letter saying, 'hey, this girl is working her tail off to get to school. She leaves with me at 4:30 a.m. and doesn't get home for good until around 10:30 p.m. and she deserves a break.'"
She got one. Napravnik was allowed to stay in school, though it wasn't long before the lure of the race track and winner's circle eclipsed the confines of the classroom. She left Hereford and began riding competitively last June. She will get her high school equivalence certificate later this summer. Friday afternoon, while the senior class at Hereford prepared to graduate, Napravnik won two more races at Pimlico.
"Sometimes I think about what I'm missing," Napravnik said. "Things like the prom, seeing my friends. But then I think about what's going on here and what I've accomplished and I really wouldn't change a thing."
Her first win came in her "first" race, June 9th of last year on a horse named Ringofdiamonds. And though diamonds may be a girl's best friend, Napravnik's soon became the race track and trainers such as Small, Ferris Allen, Howard Wolfendale, Scott Lake and Dale Capuano, who now can't wait to pony up with the red-hot, red-haired, rookie sensation. She is as tough and tenacious on the track as she is cunning and daring. Last November, she broke her collarbone only to rebound and dominate this year's winter meet at Laurel.
"There are a lot of people who really don't understand Rosie. They want her to be this cute little girl. But that's not Rosie at all," Robinson said. "She is a beautiful girl, don't think she's not. But she is very confident and courageous and very smart. And she listens. I have never had her not listen to what I have to say."
The "little" girl others may want her to be is actually an amiable and attractive 18-year-old woman who seems to loving life. She is living in her own apartment in Laurel, owns her own car and has a boyfriend. Though she may be able to dazzle you with her personality and melt you with her smile, Napravnik is all business on the race track, much like another rather successful female jockey who set the standard for the women of today, Julie Krone.
"She was amazing," Napravnik said. "How can you not admire what she did?" Krone won more than 3,500 races in her Hall of Fame career. She's also the only woman to win a Triple Crown race, the 1993 Belmont Stakes aboard Colonial Affair.
But Napravnik doesn't want to be the next Julie Krone, just the first Rosie Napravnik. Not the best apprentice rider, or the best female rider, but the best rider...period. Don't bet against her.
Issue 1.6: June 1, 2006