11/19/2014 3:31PM

Hovdey: Goodbye, farewell, and amen

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Rosie Napravnik did it the right way, which is to say she did it her way, going out on her own terms in a blaze of glory with all four limbs intact and a new life literally on the horizon. The touching ceremony last Saturday at Churchill Downs simply added a cherry to what Napravnik served up during her nine years, four months, and 23 days as a jockey who was battered and repaired many times but never broken. If it’s a boy, they should name the baby Rod, in honor of mom’s hardware.

Pregnancy is a pretty good reason for a jockey to retire. Weight gain is another, although technically not the same. Either way, jockeys who get to announce they are stepping away while standing in the winner’s circle are rare in any form.

If Untapable had lost the Distaff on Breeders’ Cup Day 1, chances are Napravnik would have saved her announcement for the following afternoon, when the dust from the rest of the races had settled. In that case, her last remembered ride might have been aboard Top Decile, who came within a half-length of catching Take Charge Brandi in the Juvenile Fillies on Breeders’ Cup Day 2, or with Tourist in the Breeders’ Cup Mile, her final mount, who suffered through a hopeless journey on the far outside of the packed field.

Instead, it is likely that Napravnik will be recalled as going out a winner, thanks to Untapable, or at least on a winning high, since the feeling of a Breeders’ Cup victory is usually good enough to last well into the winter.

Johnny Longden set the bar on final rides in 1966, when he ended a 38-year career at age 59 with a victory aboard George Royal in the San Juan Capistrano Handicap at Santa Anita. He had announced that the San Juan Capistrano would be his last ride at a turf writers’ soiree three days before the race.

“Longden’s chances of going out in a blaze of glory appear slim,” reported the Associated Press, “because George Royal has won but one race in four tries this year at Santa Anita.”

He won by a nose.

Chris McCarron had an easier time of it with Came Home in the final ride of his 28-year career in the Affirmed Handicap on June 23, 2002, which was announced well enough in advance that Hollywood Park had a farewell ceremony all ready to go the moment he jumped off the horse. Came Home won by a comfortable two lengths at odds on, which gave an emotional McCarron plenty of time to think about how those 28 years had passed.

David Gall was 57 when he rode and won the last race of his career Sept. 18, 1999, at Fairmount Park, where he had been the big fish in a small pond for decades. Gall, who won 7,396 races, was moved to retire because, as he put it, “injuries have been coming regularly the last four years.”
Pat Day, 51 at the time, did not know for certain that Two Trail Sioux would be his last ride when they finished second in the Delaware Handicap on July 17, 2005, just 2 1/2 months after surgery to repair damaged cartilage in his hip. But he had a pretty good idea, and he made it official during a press conference 18 days later at Churchill Downs, where he recorded 2,481 of his 8,803 total winners.

Jerry Bailey laid it on the line when he announced his retirement Jan. 18, 2006, stating the reasonable desire to “walk away in one piece.” He was 48 and a six-time national champion, but he still had to survive a few more rides before hanging up the white pants after riding Silver Tree in the Sunshine Millions Turf at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 28.

Silver Tree, apparently offended that Bailey was getting all the attention, kicked his jockey in the hip in the paddock before the race, then went out and finished second.

“I guess you could say I went out with a bang,” Bailey said.

The Bill Shoemaker retirement tour went on way longer than anyone thought possible, but he did make some memorable stops during 1989 before his last mount at Santa Anita on Feb. 4, 1990, in a race they called “The Legend’s Last Ride.” The Legend finished fourth.

On the other hand, Eddie Arcaro spent what was to be his final season riding Kelso, the 1961 Horse of the Year, and finishing third in the money standings behind Shoemaker and John Sellers with far fewer mounts. Arcaro, 45 at the time, rode Nov. 18, 1961, at Aqueduct, packed up, and spent the rest of the year traveling to faraway places with strange-sounding names and riding international races and exhibitions in places like Tokyo, Melbourne, and Sydney.

Arcaro also spent a month in Tahiti, which apparently was enough to convince him that his career as a jockey was over. At a swanky dinner party in Manhattan on April 3, 1962, he let it be known that he would call it a career after 4,779 wins and a record $30 million in earnings by his 24,092 mounts. This seemed premature, what with rides like Kelso and Jaipur waiting in the wings, but Arcaro laid it out.

“One, I’m 46 years old,” he said. “Two, I became bored with riding.”

No. 3 was an opportunity to go to work for American Totalisator, then later Arcaro ended up in front of the camera beside Howard Cosell on the ABC telecasts of Triple Crown events. There was no No. 4, but it was understood when he added: “I feel like I’m leaving on top.”

Pagani Zonda More than 1 year ago
She had by far the most dominant filly of any 3 year old filly this year. All she had to do was not fall off Untapable in the Oaks. But when the race riding got tough, she gave her filly a terrible ride in the Haskell, and then stormed off when a reporter asked her about the race.
slewof damascus More than 1 year ago
Quite honestly, she's an overrated rider. She's nowhere close to the league she's being mentioned with here. I'll take Vicky Aragon in her prime, any day. Emma Jayne Wilson is every bit the rider Napravnik is. Rosemary Homeister is no joke, either. Coming from the Bay Area, I not oinly remember Aragon well, but Cheryl White, an african-american, the so-called first female black jockey. Where's her article, Jay?
Mel More than 1 year ago
Can I have some of what you are smoking? Cheryl White had all she could do not to fall off. She had no strength and no ability to finish. Vicky Baze, nee Aragon, was an average rider on a minor league circuit. She never could have competed in the major leagues. Wilson and Homeister are good journeymen jocks. Rosie, at the time of her retirement was a top 10 Jock. You don't get the mounts and compete at that level without being very very good.
Pagani Zonda More than 1 year ago
Wilson is a Queen's Plate winning jock. Journeyman my arse. She is a strong rider, and can ride with any jock if on a horse who can compete.
John Stevelberg More than 1 year ago
Wish Rosie well. As a note if she does decide to return, great. It is a women's perogative to change her mind (or rethink her position).
Bob More than 1 year ago
She'll be back.....jockeys are like punch-drunk boxers, once they retire the majority find that, a) they don't know how to do anything else; and, b) they miss all the adulation and attention to such an extent that they can't resist the temptation to return to the saddle. Look at Gary Stevens...here's a guy who already had a debilitating injury that was a direct result of his years in the saddle but unlike 95% of the retired jockeys in the world, he DID have some innate talent for something besides riding a horse. He was articulate, well-spoken and good looking enough to attract a TV audience and while I don't know how much money he was or could make as a racing personality, the fact is that he was better at it that any other ex-jockey who has ever given it a go, other than perhaps Donna Barton, but could he stay away from the game? Oh no, not on your life! Instead, at the age of fifty he is risking life and limb at worst and further injury at best, all because he craves the limelight....The money may be good but I can't imagine that he could make that much more as a rider (even a top rider) than he could working in television. Even a top jock makes peanuts compared with other professional athletes and considering that they have little to no opportunity to attract endorsement deals, their earning power as a jockey is abysmal relatively speaking. Especially when you consider the risks involved. I suspect that the same thing will happen with Rosie Napravnik that happened with Gary Stevens in due time. Once the thrill of motherhood has worn off she will be back in action.
Karen Johnson More than 1 year ago
Jay--I'd love to hear recollections about your own lovely's retirement ...
Gary Peacock More than 1 year ago
Best wished, Rosie!
Gary Peacock More than 1 year ago
A fan career highlight was seeing the 'Shoe' ride a winner for then trainer Longden at the Fairplex in '77. The two of them together in the winner's circle together was a fond treat.
Chuck Berger More than 1 year ago
I remember well Johnny Longdon's final ride on George Royal. He was part of an entry that went off at 6-1. He should have been 15-1. Longdon kept him far back until the far turn. Approaching the the top of the stretch Plaque with Bobby Ussery was in front.....and then Harry Henson's voice called out, George Royal .............They hooked up the length of the stretch with George winning the nod. That was exciting and dramatic. I was at Gulfstream Park for Jerry Bailey's last win.........the day before his announced retirement.I was in the paddock with Jerry's father. Jerry won a race and I told Jim to go to the winner's circle....it just might be his last riding win( I was prophetic). So, we went to the paddock. The interesting thing for me was that we were there for Jerry's first win at Sunland Park (N.M.) at age 16 and his last at age 48. Lots of great memories in between.
Ken Wiener More than 1 year ago
What a great comment! Thnaks.
Bob Rose More than 1 year ago
Kinda hard to follow the Berger/Wiener Menu of comments, but, I can honestly say at least I can add a dash of corn in, right? Having been involved in racing all my life, I galloped Tom Cat for Bob Wheeler when he missed getting up by 2 more jumps in that 1966 San Juan Capistrano. Back to the subject at hand though, my emotions were running high due to heartfelt wishes for my half century+ friend and flat out legit trainer Art Sherman as well as his family and crew, so when Rosie told her Mom of her retirement, it threw me a curve I could hardly my ears. I mean there she stood, beside the filly she just won the B.C. Distaff on. Did she just imply she's gonna give up the mount on Untappable?!?! When I finally realized why she was retiring, the tears flew, and I thought I respected and admired Ms. Rosie before, but the heroism behind this decision leaves me Worshiping her even more. Oh shoot, here I am cryin' , oooops, don't tell anyone, us ole horsemen are tougher than that, maybe? Great story well told as usual, Mr. Hovdey.
Steve More than 1 year ago
I believe it was Joe Hernandez who called Longden's last race
Kristopher Marshall More than 1 year ago
Of course, Joe called the race at the track. Harry called it for television.
Chuck Berger More than 1 year ago
You are right, Harry called the race on television...............It was a great call. Still get goose pimples thinking about it.
Pete Sundar More than 1 year ago
Jay, you write beautifully and it is always a pleasure reading your postings. But not this one. In about 14 months or so when Rosie resumes her riding career, your headline should be : " Yet another star athlete deceives public, to garnish attention and recognition ".
Standiforx More than 1 year ago
Deceives public? She doesn't owe you losers anything. The only person she needs to remain true to is herself and her family. She has already accomplished a lot more than all of you keyboard jockeys ever will, but I'm sure that won't stop you from making your pronouncements from your trailer park about what's best for her.
Pagani Zonda More than 1 year ago
Losers? Go f yourself.
Pagani Zonda More than 1 year ago
Coming from some wanna be sports blogger.
Frank Reach More than 1 year ago
Nice article. Good to see Rosie go out on top and happy for her new life. Soon enough the great Russell Baze will finally hang up his stirrups. It'll be a sad day, but when that happens I will stand and applaud him.