11/02/2012 11:34AM

Napravnik’s name grows with every win

Barbara D. Livingston
Rosie Napravnik rides Shanghai Bobby in Breeders' Cup Juvenile on Saturday. A win would make them the early favorite for the Kentucky Derby.

ARCADIA, Calif. – With the recent retirement of Chantal Sutherland, Rosie Napravnik has inherited the role as racing’s most high-profile active female jockey.

There was a time when Napravnik tried to hide the fact she was a female jockey, riding under the pseudonym A. R. Napravnik. (Her given first name is Anna).

“That was when I was trying to get myself started,” said Napravnik, who began her career on the Maryland circuit in 2005. “That was actually [trainer] Dickie Small’s idea.”

Over the last few years, Napravnik has shredded any hopes of being anonymous. Her success winning the last two Fair Grounds riding titles was followed by her becoming the first female rider to win the Kentucky Oaks, guiding Believe You Can to that milestone victory in May. Overall, Napravnik has won 1,386 races.

[BREEDERS' CUP 2012: Race-by-race coverage, video, early odds]

“I know I’ve got the responsibility of being a role model for some people,” Napravnik, 24, said. “I really enjoy signing autographs for kids. It makes their day, and it makes you feel great.”

Napravnik fared well in her six months riding regularly on the New York Racing Association circuit, winning 73 races from 567 mounts at Aqueduct, Belmont, and Saratoga. The success only helped her expand her profile.

While she may not be winning the quantity of races she had earlier in her career, she is winning more quality races. Napravnik has won 11 graded stakes in 2012, including three Grade 1’s. Overall, through Tuesday, she has won 159 races this year, and her purse earnings of $10,107,300 rank her eighth in North America.

Saturday, Napravnik will be aboard Shanghai Bobby, the probable favorite for the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita. Friday, she was scheduled to ride the undefeated Kauai Katie in the $2 million Juvenile Fillies.

[BREEDERS' CUP PPs: Visit DRF's official BC Handicapping Center]

A victory in either of those races would make her the second female rider to win a Breeders’ Cup race. Julie Krone won the Juvenile Fillies in 2003.

“I’m always happiest when I’m winning the most,” said Napravnik, who rode 300 winners in 2006, her second year of riding. “I’ve been riding on a lot tougher circuit than I’ve ridden before. The wins don’t come easily. Being able to win some big races on the New York circuit and the Kentucky Oaks in the spring and going into the Breeders’ Cup, it really is a good feeling to know I’ve been able to ride theses horses and be competitive.”

Napravnik’s ability to compete in New York was due in part to her agent, Matt Muzikar, whose close relationship with five-time champion trainer Todd Pletcher helped get Napravnik on some talented horses. Though Pletcher mostly rides John Velazquez and Javier Castellano, he and Napravnik have combined to win 14 races, including five stakes, from 39 mounts. She has gone a combined 7 for 7 on Shanghai Bobby and Kauai Katie.

“Statistically, she doesn’t ride the same volume of horses as Johnny or Javier for us, but percentage-wise she stacks up very strongly,” Pletcher said. “I guess her style of riding and my style of training seem to work pretty well together.”

Napravnik had just begun riding in New York when Shanghai Bobby was ready to run in the first 2-year-old race of the year at Aqueduct, on April 19. Shanghai Bobby won that race by four lengths and went on to win the Track Barron Stakes, Grade 2 Hopeful, and Grade 1 Champagne.

“There’s not much that hasn’t impressed me about Shanghai Bobby,” Napravnik said. “He’s a horse that’s grown a lot and matured. I don’t think anyone’s seen the best of him. I’m excited about riding him.”

A victory by Shanghai Bobby in the Juvenile would make him the winter-book favorite for the Kentucky Derby. No female rider has ever won the Derby, and Napravnik’s ninth-place finish on Pants on Fire in the 2010 Derby is the best by a female rider.

Given that her expected mount for the 2011 Derby, Mark Valeski, was held out of the race, Napravnik does not allow herself to think too far ahead with Shanghai Bobby.

“A lot can happen between now and May,” Napravnik said. “We have to get through this race. The sky’s the limit for this horse.”

Being associated with high-profile horses and trainers is what helped launch Sutherland’s profile beyond being a pretty face. In 2011, she won the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap, becoming the first woman to do so.

Sutherland, who also did some modeling, was photographed nude on horseback for Vanity Fair magazine and was the focal point for the advertising campaigns for Santa Anita and Del Mar.

Napravnik said she has a lot of respect for what Sutherland accomplished on and off the track. But her focus, for now, is on riding.

“I really want to be recognized for my riding accomplishments,” Napravnik said. “Let’s face it – I’m not a model. Couldn’t be one. That’s something she had more avenues to go down than I have, and that’s probably much to her advantage.

“Modeling is one of the things that strikes me as something I’m not that interested in,” she said. “Not that I’d turn down an opportunity if it arose. I’m more focused on the riding part of it and finding these champion horses.”