Female jockey saddles up to chase history
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Rosie Napravnik's week at Churchill Downs started with some turmoil amid news that she would soon be serving a suspension. As Napravnik entered the final gate -- Gate No. 13 -- on Friday for the Kentucky Oaks aboard prohibitive favorite Untapable, turmoil showed up again. Three gates down, Empress of Midway flipped and had to be freed quickly.
When the 3-year-old fillies were reset in the gate minus Empress of Midway, Fashion Plate became unsettled in the seventh gate.
The scenario was ripe for an upset. It had happened to Untapable and Napravnik at last year's Breeder's Cup Juvenile Fillies when they finished a disappointing eighth.
There would be no disappointment on Friday. Turmoil was blown away down the final stretch of the 1 1/8-mile race as Untapable ran past runner-up My Miss Sophia and the rest of the field by 4½ lengths, giving Napravnik her second Kentucky Oaks win and setting the possibility for a historic double in Saturday's 140th Kentucky Derby.
Napravnik, 26, is the only female jockey to win the Oaks. No female jockey has ever won the Derby. Her fifth-place finish last year on Mylute is the best any female jockey has accomplished. She will be in the saddle of Vicar's In Trouble this year for her third Derby and she'll be coming out of the first gate in the 19-horse field. Since Churchill Downs began using gates for the Derby in 1930, eight horses have won from that No. 1 position but none since Ferdinand in 1986. No horse starting in the first spot has finished in the money since Risen Star was third in 1988.
It would be historic.
"I would have probably started thinking about that after the press conference," Napravnik said. "I really think Vicar's In Trouble has a great shot (Saturday). Everybody is a little bit more concerned about the one-hole than I am but we've got the first half completed so we're moving on to the next half."
Napravnik learned this week that she will have to serve a four-day suspension for her role in a horse she rode at Churchill Downs last Saturday, Bayern, being disqualified from first to second in a race. She doesn't have to serve the suspension until next week, however, which might give her fellow jockeys time to catch up to her.
This is the first week of Churchill Downs' spring meet and Napravnik leads the jockey standings with 11 wins in 29 mounts, including six the first two days. She won the first race of Friday's 12-race card, a six-furlong race, aboard Brazen Persuasion.
It's been an interesting week for her, to say the least.
"It's Derby week. It's not like anything else," Napravnik said. "There's a lot going on in the mornings, a lot of the media that we do and the benefits that we do, so it's very busy. I'm very grateful that we ride every day to keep myself in the daily routine and keep focused. Leading up to today was just a lot of excitement and can't wait to get to the race.
"Now that I've done it a few times I don't get as stressed out as I used to, and when you have a horse under you like Untapable you come in with confidence."
Vicar's In Trouble won't be the favorite on Saturday but after opening with 30-1 odds at Wednesday's draw the Louisiana-bred horse is now up to 21-1 on the advanced betting line. Anyone with a $1 wager on Untapable and Vicar's In Trouble to complete the Oaks-Derby double will get back a tidy $71.20 if it comes to fruition.
It would mean a lot more that a sum of money for Napravnik.
"Winning the Kentucky Oaks two years ago was one of my greatest moments and this will probably go down as one of my greatest moments," Napravnik said. "Being the female version of the Derby validates the accomplishment. I have so many women out there pulling for me and people always ask me how it makes me feel. To me, having those women and those little girls in my corner really is inspiring to me to inspire other people. It makes you feel great."