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Rosie Napravnik: The Best Female Jockey of All-Time

I've followed the "sport of kings" since I was a teenager and have continued to be a regular horse player throughout my entire life.

Rosie Napravnik

Rosie Napravnik

Career Statistics

  • Starts: 9,715
  • Wins: 1,877
  • 2nd Places: 1,636
  • 3rd Places: 1,432
  • Earnings: $71,396,717

The 2013 Triple Crown Mounts

Rosie rode the filly Unlimited Budget in the Belmont Stakes, breaking from post 13. She finished in 6th place—a disappointing finish for the filly but understandable in her first start against males and battling the sloppy track conditions.

Only the third female to ever ride in the Preakness Stakes, Rosie finished in 3rd place on Mylute to set the standard as the best finish in the race by someone of her gender. She insisted after the race that she hates to be compared to other females from the past and wants to feel like she can compete with anyone.

Rosie Napravnik finished 5th in the 2013 Kentucky Derby on Mylute. This was the best finish ever for a female jockey in the history of the race. She had previously finished 9th a few years prior on Pants on Fire, the former record holder. Despite being stuck in heavy traffic on the far turn, Rosie guided her horse through the mud and finished well with a hard-charging 5th-place finish in the field of 19.

Rosie finished 5th in the Kentucky Derby on Mylute.

Rosie finished 5th in the Kentucky Derby on Mylute.

The Early Years

Born in 1988 as the daughter of a horse show trainer and a horseshoer, Napravnik grew up in New Jersey surrounded by horses for most of her early life. It was only natural that her familiarity with horses would lead to a career involving racing.

Her career began in 2005 as she joined the jockey colony in Maryland, which has been a breeding ground for many new jockeys to compete against other top prospects and a few veterans. In 2006, after only her second full year of racing, she finished 31st in the nation, with earnings exceeding six million dollars.

Over the next few years, she remained in the top 50 nationally but didn't really have a huge victory that would make her known to all of the world's top owners and trainers. She had the label of "good female jockey," which meant that she was trusted enough to win consistently at the small- and medium-sized tracks, but not good enough to get the Triple Crown horses. It seemed like she was going to be stuck in the same place forever due to the fact that many owners simply would not use a woman on their best stock.

The Big Break

The moment that made owners open their minds to Rosie's ability came in May of 2011. The Kentucky Oaks is the equivalent of the Kentucky Derby, except the Oaks is only open to 3-year-old fillies. It takes place on the Friday before the big Derby, so several million fans are watching across the globe. Rosie Napravnik was given a chance to compete in the Oaks race on a 16-1 long shot named St. Johns River.

In the video below, keep your eye on the 13 horse. When the gate opens, she stumbles a bit, and Rosie darts her across the track behind the entire field to save ground and cruise along the rail around the turns. This turned out to be a brilliant strategy as you will see in the stretch.

Her superb effort in this prestigious race helped launch her from "top female jockey" status in everyone's eyes to simply "great jockey." She began getting more offers from owners and trainers that had snubbed her up until that point.

The following day, she finished 9th in the Kentucky Derby on Pants on Fire, the highest finish ever for a female rider. For Rosie, she had finally arrived. However, that was just a prequel to what the next year would bring . . .

Rosie Napravnik

Rosie Napravnik

From Oaks to Oaks

Over the next year, Rosie continued to win races and became a top-30 jockey in the final standings. She was especially excited because she was slotted to ride in both the Oaks and the Derby for the Jones family. Disappointment struck late along the Derby trail when her horse was unable to compete and she was without a ride in the world's most prestigious race. However, she decided to make the best of it and focus on her mount in the 2012 Oaks, a 13-1 long shot named Believe You Can.

Aftermath of the 2012 Oaks

Rosie Napravnik became the first female jockey in history to win the Kentucky Oaks. Her connections were overwhelmed with joy as the victory helped lessen the sting of losing a shot at the Derby. For the second straight year, Rosie had taken a long shot in the Oaks and given it a top-notch ride.

The payoffs for the race: Win 29.60 Place 11,80 Show 6.40

Now, expectations would begin to rise, and she would have to continue to perform at a high level to compete with the world's top jockeys. The Oaks was an incredible stepping stone, but the Derby dream would have to wait another year. Little did she know that she had already met a horse earlier that year who would launch her career even further.

Shanghai Bobby

Three weeks before her Oaks victory, Rosie was about to ride Shanghai Bobby in his first career start. She later recalled that he was confident and very powerful and was not intimidated at all by the other competitors around him. He went off as an even-money favorite and easily handled the field of non-winners. However, Rosie had the upcoming Oaks and Derby on her mind, so this talented horse would have to wait a little longer to get her full attention.

Shanghai Bobby romped in his next three starts as well. Now, Rosie realized exactly what had come into her life. She had her first "superhorse!" At some point in their career, every successful jockey will have that one special horse that can take them to places that they have never been before. Jerry Bailey had Cigar, Shane Sellers had Skip Away, and Gary Stevens had Point Given. Was this going to be the animal that would take her to superstar status?

Shanghai Bobby

Shanghai Bobby

She would have that answer soon, as Shanghai Bobby was competing in the $2 million Breeders Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita Park in California. For Rosie, this was the biggest moment of her career—even larger than her Oaks win. This time, she wasn't on a long shot that no one took seriously. She had a horse that was supposed to win and defeat the top 2-year-olds in the entire world, and she had to do it on racing's largest global stage.

Only one woman had ever won a Breeders Cup in history—the Hall of Fame jockey Julie Krone. Rosie had the opportunity to make herself a legend at age 24.

The Eyes of the World Upon Them

The team of Rosie Napravnik and Shanghai Bobby were ready to battle the best 2-year-old colts and geldings in the world. With millions and millions of eyes upon them, it was time to see if they were up to the task!

The Promised Land

Staring at the jaws of defeat, Shanghai Bobby found one final burst of energy to hold on to a victory by a nose. With 200 yards to go, it looked like he was surely going to lose, but Rosie urged him to give him everything that he had left. When it was over, she had established herself as a force to be reckoned with in the sport of kings. She was no longer just the best "female" rider. Plus, she joined Julie Krone as the second woman to ever win a Breeders Cup race. She also knew something else that was perhaps even more important than this victory. Rosie was now the early favorite to win the 2013 Kentucky Derby!

Photo Finish of the 2012 BC Juvenile race, won by Shanghai Bobby and ridden by Rosie Napravnik

Photo Finish of the 2012 BC Juvenile race, won by Shanghai Bobby and ridden by Rosie Napravnik

The Bittersweet Retirement

Here, Napravnik is giving an interview before a big race.

Here, Napravnik is giving an interview before a big race.

© 2013 Kenneth Claude