11/13/2014 11:32AM

Napravnik's future in the sport is the great unknown

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Barbara D. Livingston
Rosie Napravnik sprinkles flower petals over Untapable after taking the 2014 Distaff, her second Breeders' Cup win.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – For all the fame, riches, honors, and adulation that Rosie Napravnik has amassed, she still doesn’t have one thing: a crystal ball.

One would certainly come in handy now, with everybody asking her the same thing: When are you coming back to ride, Rosie?

The emotional bombshell she dropped on NBC-TV after winning the Oct. 31 Breeders’ Cup Distaff aboard Untapable at Santa Anita – she will be having a baby next year, and her retirement from the saddle is immediate – is still sinking in, its long-term implications reverberating in the jockeys’ rooms, grandstands, and backstretches of American racetracks and beyond.

“I can’t really promise anything,” she said. “I’m probably going to take a significant amount of time off. I’m not in a hurry to have a baby and lose weight and get fit and come back as soon as possible.”

At age 26, there is still plenty of time for Napravnik to resume a riding career that can fairly be described as phenomenal. And while her rising star is in a voluntary holding pattern for the joys of motherhood, she and everyone else will be guessing about what her future holds.

:: Husband Joe Sharp proving ideal partner

On a recent morning at the Trackside training center, where Napravnik was finishing up another busy session of training Thoroughbreds alongside her husband of three years, trainer Joe Sharp, she seemed very much at ease with this abrupt change of life.

“I think there’s a lot more I could accomplish if I were to come back,” she said. “But I don’t know how I’ll feel in a year or three years or however long it might be, if I’ll be itching to get back into the starting gate or if I’ll be consumed with raising children. Joe and I have seriously talked about having more than one child, so I don’t know. Nobody knows.”

The baby is due June 24. The baby’s gender will become known in January, long after she and Joe have settled in at their winter home in the Mid-City neighborhood of New Orleans. The pregnancy was not necessarily planned, she said.

“Joe and I have been very eager to have children since before we got married,” she said. “We hadn’t planned on doing it this early, but we reconsidered this summer and decided to see what happened, not knowing whether it would take a month or year or however long.”

For now, Napravnik is letting herself unwind and take a deep breath as a small reward for the considerable effort and anxiety she has undertaken in getting to this pivotal point in her storybook life.

“Basically, since the age of 13, I’ve put 110 percent of my energy and focus into becoming a jockey, being a jockey, finding a good horse, making it to the top,” she said. “I’ve used every ounce of energy toward my goals. I don’t know if I could do that and raise children at the same time.”

Therein lays the crux of what she must grapple with in the years to come. She faces biological and parenting issues that men in her profession don’t face to such a harsh degree. They are issues not limited just to the insular domain of horse racing.

Ever cognizant of these larger matters, Napravnik is now indulging herself by working with the loves of her life: Joe and horses. She grew up around horses in New Jersey; her father is a blacksmith in New Jersey, and her mother is a riding teacher at a boarding school in Baltimore. Rosie, the youngest of three grown children from their divorced parents, has become a staunch advocate for racehorse aftercare, having donated countless hours and her good name to charitable organizations such as Old Friends, the Lexington, Ky.-area farm for retired racehorses. Her affection for horses is deeply rooted and genuine.

“I was just there at Old Friends doing a photo shoot with Game On Dude,” she said. “What a cool, cool horse.”

She came to work at Trackside on the Wednesday after the Breeders’ Cup and has been exercising five or six head a day while assisting Joe in barn chores. (The stable will soon move to Fair Grounds in New Orleans for the winter, with a smaller second string at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas.)

After moving at the end of this month from their east-end Louisville home to New Orleans, Napravnik will continue to work in that capacity until she feels like it’s time to stop.

“I feel so great right now,” she said. “I’ll talk with my doctor and play it by ear. My objective isn’t to do it as long as I possibly can, but I do like to be active.”

Not that she minds, but her profile in the sport will be far less pronounced than what it has been.

While Napravnik long has idolized Julie Krone, she already owns accomplishments that not even Krone attained during her Hall of Fame career. Napravnik has won the Kentucky Oaks twice. Krone has never won the Oaks. Napravnik has won two Breeders’ Cup races, and Krone has won one. Napravnik also owns the top three single-season earnings records for female riders, having averaged more than $13 million a year for the last three seasons (2012-14).

Her career mount earnings of $71.4 million are still second among women to Krone’s $90.1 million, but Napravnik surely would have flown past that mark before too long. Her tenures as a leading jockey in Maryland, Louisiana, and Kentucky have made her a huge fan favorite at every stop, and like Krone and other such pioneers, her remarkable body of work has further eroded barriers for women in a male-dominated industry.

And then there was the surreal scene in the Breeders’ Cup winner’s circle, where she told her stunned mother, Cindy, in a quavering voice: “My retirement starts on Sunday, and Joe and I are starting a family.”

One person said via social media that it was comparable to the aftermath of the 1990 Kentucky Derby, when Carl Nafzger famously told Mrs. Genter that he loved her. Yes, it was pretty powerful.

“My mom didn’t know until that moment,” Napravnik said. “There were very, very few people we had told.”

Long praised by horsemen and fans for her smarts in and out of the saddle, Napravnik is introspective, articulate, poised, and rarely prone to slips of the tongue. So, when she casually used the word “retirement,” as she did a time or two during the Trackside interview this week, there was a lingering sense that she might actually be ... retired.

Like, for good.

“It’s very difficult to raise children on the racetrack,” she said, “and the demands of being a jockey and a mother at the same time would be very hard. Obviously, it’s something we’ll have to think and talk about as we go.”

Not many hard-bitten racetrackers believe it will last – too many other jockeys have “retired,” only to come back when the money and accolades became too hard to resist.

But just in case Napravnik never returns, she has arrived at a peaceful pause with a wonderful legacy in place.

“I mean, I’m not going to slam the door on a game that’s been incredibly good to me,” she said. “But I honestly don’t feel like I’ve missed out on anything. I’m not dissatisfied I haven’t won the [Kentucky] Derby. Let’s say this: I don’t feel as though there are any opportunities I haven’t gotten that I should have gotten. It all makes me satisfied with what I’ve accomplished to this point.”

Anna Rose “Rosie” Napravnik
BORN: Feb. 9, 1988, in Mendham, N.J.
RESIDES: Louisville, Ky., and New Orleans
FAMILY: Husband, Joe; father, Charles; mother, Cindy;
sister, Jazz; brother, Colt.
FIRST WIN: June 9, 2005, at Pimlico
CAREER WINS: 1,878
STAKES WINS: 174 (58 graded)
MOUNT EARNINGS: $71,436,887
NOTABLE WINS:
2012 Kentucky Oaks, Believe You Can
2012 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, Shanghai Bobby
2014 Kentucky Oaks, Untapable
2014 Breeders’ Cup Distaff, Untapable
MEET TITLES: Laurel, Pimlico, Delaware, Fair Grounds, Keeneland
AWARDS and DISTINCTIONS: Only woman to ride in all three Triple Crown events; Eclipse Award nominee (apprentice rider), 2006; Presented key to the city of New Orleans in January 2013; New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame Athlete of the Year, 2013; Second to Julie Krone in lifetime earnings among female jockeys

Career timeline
Feb. 9, 1988
Born in Mendham, N.J.

1993
First horse-related injury (broken arm) at age 4

2001
Goes to work at age 13 for trainer Jonathan Sheppard

2004
Goes to work at age 16 for trainer Richard “Dickie” Small

June 9, 2005
Rides first winner, Ringofdiamonds,  at Pimlico

April 15, 2006
Wins first riding title (Laurel Park winter meet)

November 2008
Rides regularly in New York (Aqueduct) for first time

March 26, 2011
Wins Louisiana Derby on Pants On Fire

April 2011
Begins riding regularly in Kentucky (Keeneland) for first time

May 7, 2011
Becomes sixth woman to ride in Kentucky Derby (Pants On Fire, 9th)

Oct. 9, 2011
Marries Joe Sharp in Media, Pa.

May 4, 2012
Becomes first female jockey to win Kentucky Oaks (Believe You Can)

May 2012
Rides regularly at Belmont Park for first time

July 2012
Rides regularly at Saratoga for first time

Nov. 3, 2012
Wins Breeders’ Cup Juvenile on Shanghai Bobby

Dec. 31, 2012
Ends year with $12,451,713 in mount earnings, a record for female jockeys

April 28, 2013
Profiled on “60 Minutes”

Oct. 26, 2013
Becomes first woman to win jockey title at Keeneland

March 30, 2014
Ends Fair Grounds meet as leading jockey for fourth straight year

May 2, 2014
Wins Kentucky Oaks on Untapable

Sept. 10, 2014
Wins at Kentucky Downs on Holiday Drama, first career starter for husband

Oct. 31, 2014
Wins Breeders’ Cup Distaff on Untapable and announces her retirement; ends year with career-high $13,531,663 in mount earnings

Nov. 5, 2014
Begins assisting husband at Trackside training center