LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Baltimore lawyer Frank Morgan helped swimmer Michael Phelps, then 16 years old, select Peter Carlisle as his agent. Phelps was years away from stardom, but Carlisle aggressively marketed his client, hoping to eventually elevate him beyond the confines of an Olympic sport that mattered to a broad audience only every four years.
Earlier this year, Carlisle signed another client — at the suggestion of Morgan — and put her on the Phelps plan. He's already signed a deal for jockey Rosie Napravnik to endorse Snickers — an agreement proposed before Carlisle learned that the candy bar was named for a horse — and has another in the works that could be announced before Preakness.
The goal is the same: to make Napravnik known by the average sports fan and therefore elevate the popularity of her sport.
"I just think, even before you take into consideration Rosie's personality, the fact that she could be the first woman to win the Kentucky Derby is a huge deal," Carlisle said. "There's so much potential for her there."
Carlisle believes horse racing — or equestrian sports in general — has a built-in group of fans it has failed to cultivate.
His theory came from observing his own children. His two sons have never mentioned horses or horse racing. "My daughter, she turns five, and horses are the only thing in the world that matter to her," he said. "It just seems to happen that way. They gravitate to the animals, and there's a way to keep that going."
Carlisle and his agency, Octagon, hadn't worked with a jockey before and most of his exposure to the sport came from spending time in Baltimore while working with Phelps.
"As I started researching horse racing, I realized that the Kentucky Derby might be the No. 1 single one-day opportunity there is," he said. "But we're thinking more broadly than that."
Morgan became aware of Napravnik when she began her riding career in Maryland. She piloted a horse owned by Phelps' coach, Bob Bowman, to a stakes win in 2008 at Laurel (the horse, named for swimmer Peter Vanderkaay, is out of Malibu Moon, the sire of Derby favorite Orb).
Napravnik will ride Mylute in the Derby on Saturday. Her work on Shanghai Bobby, the 2-year-old champion last year, stirred Carlisle's interest. When that colt became one of the more than 30 top contenders to step away from the Derby trail, Napravnik, who was eighth among jockeys with nearly $12.5 in earnings last year, was quickly picked up by Mylute's connections.
"We're confident she'll continue to get these chances," Carlisle said, "and that she's the sort of athlete and personality who will make the most of them and help her sport grow. Right now we're building relationships that can pay off later. It's what we did with Michael before anyone knew him: providing context."
Napravnik won the $300,000 Grade II Alysheba stakes on Take Charge Indy on Friday, and she was ninth in the $1 million Kentucky Oaks. She became the first woman to win that race last year.
Pletcher's 'Princess' wins Oaks
Todd Pletcher's 38-1 long shot Princess of Sylmar won the Kentucky Oaks on Friday, giving the trainer a chance to become the first since Ben Jones in 1952 to win the top race for 3-year-old fillies and the Kentucky Derby in the same year.
Pletcher, who has five horses entered in the Derby, had four in the Oaks. Dreaming of Julia was the favorite but could not recover from a rowdy start to the race.
"She got creamed coming out of [the gate] and it is hard to overcome that sort of thing," Pletcher said.
Jockey Mike Smith helped the Pennsylvania-bred Princess of Sylmar avoid the traffic. He could also achieve the Derby-Oaks double, as he rides Pletcher's Palace Malice on Saturday.
Princess of Sylmar returned $79.60 on a $2 bet, the second highest return in Oaks history.
Black Onyx scratches
Late Thursday morning, trainer Kelly Breen was asked if he felt overlooked.
"We call it flying under the radar," he said. "You guys might call it lack of respect. We're a small stable. We have some good horses. We've been to the Derby every other year. This is our third one."
On Friday, when his horse, Black Onyx, came up lame after a morning gallop, Breen announced that this would not, in fact, be his third Kentucky Derby. He scratched the winner of the Spiral — which launched Animal Kingdom toward Derby glory in 2011 — after X-rays revealed a non-displaced chip in his front left ankle. It's unclear whether the injury will require surgery.
"We noticed a little swelling in the ankle this morning, previous to training," Breen said. "It brought major concern right away. He went out, he trained, he did gallop. He came back and was, say, a one out of five lameness."
Joe Bravo, a third-generation jockey and veteran of the New Jersey circuit, said he had not sensed any problems the last two times he rode Black Onyx.
"I'm just very thankful that the horse is going to be OK," Bravo said. "Maybe it's a blessing in disguise."
Black Onyx did not scratch early enough to allow also-eligible Fear the Kitten into the field. The Churchill Downs stewards decided to keep the No. 1 post — which trainers and jockeys dread — open.
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