02/21/2006 12:00AM

Coming up Rosie at Laurel

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Jim McCue/Maryland Jockey Club
Rosie Napravnik

During a winter when Maryland racing has been peppered by dreary reports of barn quarantines and outbreaks of the equine herpesvirus, apprentice jockey Rosie Napravnik has been a breath of fresh air.

Through Feb. 20, Napravnik led the Laurel Park jockey standings with 46 wins, 18 ahead of her closest competitor, Erick Rodriguez, and seventh nationally. By riding a winner for the 11th consecutive program on Monday, she completed a six-day hot streak in which she won 12 races and finished in the money 31 times from 46 mounts.

Those are impressive feats for any rider, let alone a novice who turned 18 on Feb. 9, a milestone she celebrated by riding two winners at Laurel, including the 100th of her career. In the opinion of some of Laurel's most respected trainers, Anna Rosie Napravnik has already proven herself wise beyond her years.

"She's pretty special," said trainer Dickie Small. "I've used a lot of different people riding for me over the years. Some riders have a special gift for understanding horses; most don't. What she's able to do with a horse is almost magic."

Napravnik gravitated toward horses thanks to the female influences in her family. Her mother, Cindy, manages a 40-stall horse boarding facility and trains three-day event horses in Bedminster, N.J., not far from the United States Equestrian Team Foundation Olympic Training Center. Her older sister, Jazz, 23, briefly rode on the steeplechase circuit and is now an assistant trainer in Maryland.

Napravnik first got on a horse at age 2 and followed in her sister's footsteps by riding in pony races as a youngster. She was also involved in gymnastics and ice skating.

"When I was 10 years old I wasn't sure which sport I wanted to stick with," Napravnik said. "I'm glad I picked racing."

After she completed her sophomore year at Warren Hills Regional High School in western New Jersey, Napravnik asked her parents for permission to move to Maryland to be near her sister while learning to become a jockey. She began working horses for Small in early 2004. When Small agreed she was ready, Napravnik rode her first race last June 9 at Pimlico, scoring a two-length win with the Small-trained filly Ringofdiamonds.

Although she can tack 111 pounds, Napravnik said she has to diet to reach that weight. She plans to remain in Maryland this year, branching out this summer at either Delaware Park or Colonial Downs.

Trainer A. Ferris Allen said he believes Napravnik has the potential to become the best apprentice Maryland has produced in 20 years.

"I've seen a lot of good apprentices come through here," said Allen, a consistent top 10 trainer in Maryland for more than a decade. "Rosie still has a ways to go, but I think she'll be the best apprentice we've had since Kent Desormeaux."

To put that remark in perspective, Desormeaux won an Eclipse Award as the nation's top apprentice in 1987, a season in which he rode 450 winners. Overall, eight other riders who began their careers in Maryland have been honored with an Eclipse since 1974 - Chris McCarron, Ron Franklin, Albert Delgado, Mike Luzzi, Mark Johnston, Jeremy Rose, and Ryan Fogelsonger.

Napravnik said she feels the Eclipse may be beyond her reach. She cites Kentucky-based Julien Leparoux and northern California sensation Martin Garcia as two of her peers with far more wins than she has in the first seven weeks of the year. It's more realistic, Napravnik said, for her to shoot for 200 wins in 2006.

Napravnik is aware that some people have called her "another Julie Krone" and is confident she can enjoy long-term success.

"I think I have the personality and the ability to go far," Napravnik said. "Instead of people saying that I might be the next Julie Krone, I would rather have them say I'm the first Anna Napravnik."

Fogelsonger, who won 267 races during his Eclipse-winning season in 2002, said he has been impressed with Napravnik.

"She's already a smart rider," Fogelsonger said. "She picks and chooses where she has to go with a horse during a race. She will do whatever her horse needs to do to have a chance to win."

Small noted that Napravnik's mistakes are rare.

"She'll go back after a race and watch the replays and try to find out, 'What did the winning rider do?' She absorbs things like a sponge," Small said.

Napravnik was also Laurel's leading rider last fall until she went down in a spill on Nov. 12 and broke her collarbone. Although she missed seven weeks, Napravnik calls the accident "a blessing in disguise" because it gave her more time to develop her skills while still having the advantage of a five-pound weight allowance. She successfully petitioned to have her apprentice allowance extended until Aug. 22.

"It's difficult to predict what's going to happen in the future," Allen said. "But right now, it's an awful lot of run watching Rosie ride."