Friday, May 4, 2012

Rosie Napravnik Becomes the First Female Jockey to Win the Kentucky Oaks

With her body lowered against the filly’s neck and withers, Rosie Napravnik asked the three-year-old filly beneath her for all she had. On the outside, the pair flew like a freight train. The wire was just ahead. Along with crossing that wire in front came the most coveted garland of lilies in the world, and, of course, the prestige of winning the greatest race for sophomore fillies in the world, the Kentucky Oaks (GI).

But it was not meant to be. Rosie Napravnik and St. John’s River finished a neck behind Plum Pretty in the 2011 Lilies for the Fillies. Two months later, Rosie Napravnik received an injury to her left arm and after four surgeries and her wedding, Napravnik was able to return to the races.
Rosie Napravnik
Photo: Terri Cage

For the second year in a row, Napravnik garnered the title of leading rider at Fair Grounds Race Course in New Orleans. Along with riding the talented colt Mark Valeski for trainer Larry Jones and former governor of Kentucky, Brereton Jones, Napravnik guided the gifted filly Believe You Can to wins in the Silverbulletday Stakes and the Fair Grounds Oaks (GII) for the same connections.

Four years after Larry Jones and Brereton Jones took the Kentucky Oaks with a daughter of Proud Citizen, the eventual champion Proud Spell, they returned to the race with yet another daughter of Proud Citizen – this time with a filly named Believe You Can. Prior to the Oaks, Believe You Can – like Proud Spell – turned in a blazing final work. The Fair Grounds Oaks winner completed five furlongs in an official clocking of 58.40 seconds, though others clocked her even faster.

Five days later, before the second largest crowd in Kentucky Oaks history, Believe You Can and thirteen other elite Thoroughbred fillies loaded into the starting gate before the grandstand at the historic Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky to contest in the greatest race for three-year-old fillies in the world. Side by side, the fillies stood in the gate, their eyes focused on the vast dirt oval ahead of them. Rosie Napravnik and the other jockeys settled aboard their mounts, prepared to ride a tremendous race. With one clang and an enormous cheer from the crowd, the young female Thoroughbreds leapt from the gate en route to a contest for the most sought-after lilies in the world.

Shortly after her clean break from the gate, Believe You Can was guided to the front by Napravnik, though it was the brilliant Broadway’s Alibi that took the lead as the field rounded the clubhouse turn. Rating just off the pace, Napravnik and Believe You Can found a good position in second as the fillies galloped down the backstretch, settling just to the outside of Broadway’s Alibi. Relaxing beautifully beneath twenty-four-year-old Napravnik, Believe You Can began to inch closer to the leader around the far turn.

As the fillies swung into the homestretch, it was clear that Believe You Can, with Rosie Napravnik aboard, and Broadway’s Alibi, with veteran jockey John Velazquez in the irons were headed into a fierce battle. With the riders asking their mounts for all they had, the two fillies dueled down the stretch before Believe You Can surged forward just before the sixteenth pole to draw off to a ¾ of a length victory. Triumphantly, Rosie Napravnik punched her fist into the air, a joyous grin spreading across her face.

With her victory aboard Believe You Can, Rosie Napravnik not only acquired her first grade one triumph, but she also became the first female in the one hundred thirty-eight runnings of the Kentucky Oaks to ride to victory. Her victory aboard Believe You Can is surely a source of inspiration for young women aspiring to have a career in the sport of kings, as well as a race that will never be forgotten and will forever be etched in the history books.

Rosie Napravnik wasn’t done yet. She came back after the Kentucky Oaks to win the nightcap at Churchill Downs, further putting an emphasis on her incredible talent and, of course, Girl Power.

As for Believe You Can, she was one of my featured "Oaks Contenders," so you can read more about her here.

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