11/13/2014 1:25PM

Sharp proving to be ideal partner for Napravnik

Barbara D. Livingston
Trainer Joe Sharp won with his first starter in September at Kentucky Downs.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Joe Sharp is a kindred spirit with his wife, Rosie Napravnik. He, too, grew up around horses, dreaming of the day he would make it big in a sport he loves.

“As a kid, I used to sleep with a set of blinkers,” he said. “Purple and white diamonds.”

Having served lengthy apprenticeships under several trainers, Sharp, 29, is now streaking toward his long-held goal. He won with his first career starter in September at Kentucky Downs (with Rosie up, of course) and has sustained that momentum in an effort to build a successful stable, winning with 11 of his first 26 runners while based at the Trackside training center near Churchill Downs.

Sharp, an assistant at the time for trainer Mike Stidham, met his future wife in the summer of 2009 when both were working at Delaware Park. Sharp had traveled extensively in a short-lived career as a jockey and exercise rider – he even won a race for fledgling trainer Jamie Ness at a North Dakota bush track in 2004 – before working for Stidham from 2005 until 2010, when he left to work under Mike Maker for about four years prior to going out on his own.

The couple hit it off quickly. By October 2011, they were married, and now they are expectant parents with a marital bond strengthened by their common interests, backgrounds, ambitions, work habits, and racetrack wanderlust. To an impartial observer, it seems their journey into parenthood is being greatly anticipated because they get to do it together. Theirs is a close relationship that casually blows off the fame the wife addresses with self-deprecation.

“He feels like I’m famous as much as I do,” Napravnik said, “which is not at all.”

:: Napravnik's future in racing is the great unknown

Sharp is an only child. He is the son of Marc Sharp, a longtime trainer at Charles Town, and Sara Escudero, a former exercise rider whose boyfriend of seven years, Bret Calhoun, is a leading trainer in the Midwest. Marc Sharp has a horse farm in Harper’s Ferry, W.Va., but now mostly splits his time between Presque Isle Downs in Pennsylvania and a training base in Ocala, Fla.

As a youth, Joe split time between his divorced parents’ homes in Kentucky and West Virginia. Wherever he was, horses were close by.

“I learned a whole lot of horsemanship from my dad, and my mom’s always been there for me, too,” said Sharp, who has a 10-year-old daughter, Aiyana, from a previous relationship. “When I was 9, my dad put me on a mailing list for condition books from a few tracks. He’d let me pick out spots for his horses. Obviously, he would censor them, but I was on my way. I couldn’t get enough of it.”

After Churchill ends its fall meet Nov. 30, Sharp will have 22 stalls at Fair Grounds and up to 10, he said, at Oaklawn Park. The stable will return to Kentucky in the spring with the hopes of also having a small string in New York. Sharp mostly credits owners Ken Ramsey and Brad Grady for his initial flurry of success, and he seems particularly enthused about having recently been sent two horses by Arthur Hancock of Sunday Silence fame.

There is a certain “insert joke here” quality to the transition Joe and Rosie are undertaking as a racetrack couple: She is giving up a high-profile job just when he is trying to win his way into one. Yet their roles within the framework of the marriage are interchangeable: success (or failure) for one means the same for the other.

“Some guys might think being married to someone as famous as Rosie is a tough position, but I don’t,” said Sharp. “I’m very proud of her. It doesn’t have any negative repercussions and never has, other than we’re always so busy. I guess our personalities suit each other.”