BALTIMORE — Rosie Napravnik’s motivation for winning the Preakness has little to do with making history.
With a victory aboard Mylute on Saturday, Napravnik would become the first female jockey to capture the middle jewel of the Triple Crown. More importantly to her, though, it would serve as a triumphant return to Pimlico Race Course, where she launched her career.
“You know what? It would be a great accomplishment, but that’s not the reason I want to win it, because no other woman has won it before,” Napravnik said in a telephone interview. “I just want to win it for my own sense of accomplishment and for all the people who have been rooting for me since the very beginning. It would be unbelievable to win the race, and I really believe we have a good shot.”
Napravnik, 25, finished fifth in the Kentucky Derby on Mylute, the best performance ever by a female rider in the sport’s most esteemed event.
“The Derby was a great race,” she said. “I mean, he just did everything right. He was a little farther back than I wanted to be, but that’s just sort of his running style. He ran an excellent race, made a huge move around the turn down the lane, basically followed (first-place finisher) Orb the whole way. It was the kind of race that he will really move forward from.”
If there’s such a thing as home-track advantage, Napravnik will have it in the Preakness. Her first career win came at Pimlico in 2005, aboard her first-ever mount, Ringofdiamonds, just days after finishing her junior year of high school.
One year later, Napravnik swept the rider standings at all four meets at Pimlico.
And now she’s running in the Preakness, where she will become the third female rider to have a mount, joining Patti Cooksey (sixth aboard Tajawa in 1985) and Andrea Seefeldt (seventh with Looming in 1994).
“It’s always an advantage if you know a track well,” Napravnik said. “I won a lot of races at Pimlico and I like the track. I know the track like the back of my hand, and I appreciate that fact.”
She can only hope that will be of use against Orb on Saturday.
“Whether we can win the race or not, it’s still to be seen. It’s going to be a tough race and Orb is definitely going to be tough to beat,” she said. “Either way, I’d have to say it will be one of my proudest moments.”
That’s saying something, because Napravnik has accomplished much since trainer Dickie Smalls sent her out on her first mount on that memorable June afternoon in 2005.
Last year, Napravnik won 193 races. Along the way, she became only the second female rider in history to win a Breeders’ Cup race and the first woman in the 138-year history of the Kentucky Oaks to reach the winner’s circle.
Her career has provided her many rewards and more than a few broken bones. She has fractured her collarbone, wrist and leg, but none of that has stopped her from getting back in the saddle.
“I’ve always been impressed with not only her riding skills, but her competitiveness,” said Orb trainer Shug McGaughey, who has employed Napravnik in the past. “She wants to be a great jock, she’s very, very confident of herself, and when you’ve got her, you’ve got a great addition.”
It’s been eight years since her first ride at Pimlico, and Napravnik can’t wait for the next one.
“If I think about all the places I’ve been and the things I’ve done, wow, I’ve accomplished a lot,” she said. “But at the same time, it feels like it was just yesterday when I was galloping there when I was just 16. Time has flown by, but time flies when you’re having fun, and I love what I do.”