Sitting in front of a microphone Friday morning, Rosie Napravnik fielded questions about her first race at Pimlico Race Course while donning a hat from her new sponsor, Snickers Bites. For the 25-year-old jockey, it was a fitting juxtaposition, as she's risen to fame after she got her start as a jockey here in 2005.
Now, Napravnik returns to race in Pimlico's biggest event on the course where she won her first start as a jockey. She will become the third female to ride in the Preakness and can become the first to win it, but that's not her motivation.
Napravnik's history with the course is what makes her return "home" so special, and she said winning the Preakness would be a "personal accomplishment" on par with winning the sport's biggest race, the Kentucky Derby.
She's certainly had good luck at Pimlico ever since riding Ring Of Diamonds to victory for trainer Dickie Small in her very first start.
"My first race was kind of a surreal experience. I couldn't actually believe I was riding as a professional," Napravnik said. "I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, I didn't know how to read a racing form … and somehow I made it to the front. When I won the race, it was storybook, and that's only where it started."
The New Jersey native moved to Baltimore to learn from Small and trainer Holly Robinson, whom she lived with while she worked as an exercise rider. Napravnik remembers her first few days at Pimlico, and they've left quite an impression on the spunky jockey.
"I used to gallop out at that barn out there, which is now a stakes barn," Napravnik said. "This was the first race track I've ever galloped on, and I remember coming ito the barn area and meeting Holly Robinson, and she told me, knowing I wanted to be a jockey, she shook my hand and said, 'I hate girls and I hate bronc riders.'"
Napravnik has since won more than 1,300 races, including the Kentucky Oaks and the Breeders' Cup Juvenile in 2012, which has put her in the spotlight as one of the nation's best jockeys.
Two weeks ago, Napravnik placed fifth in the Kentucky Derby riding Mylute, the highest-ever finish for the woman. Mylute wasn't a favorite — the morning odds were just 15-1 for the colt — but came on as a surprise as he surged late.
With that finish, Napravnik broke her own Derby record for a female jockey — a ninth place finish in 2011. She finished eighth in 2012 purse earnings, another record for a female jockey, firmly putting herself in the conversation with Julie Krone and other female greats.
Robinson believes Napravnik is the best female jockey ever. "There's not a question in the world," she said.
Though she's humbled with the comparisons to Krone, Napravnik says she isn't too fond of the additional media attention bringing light to the fact she's a female jockey.
"I'm not doing this because I'm a girl," she said. "I'm not trying to win the race because I'm a female jockey, I just want to win the race."
Still, Napravnik is becoming one of the faces of the sport, which has led to her sponsorship deal with Snickers.
Earlier this year, Kelly Wietsma, Napravnik's public relations manager, got in contact with Peter Carlisle, Octagon's managing director for olympic and action sports — the same man who got Michael Phelps involved in marketing and sponsorship.
"Rosie and I talked about it months ago," Wietsma said. "She was getting to the point, she's one of the leading jockeys in the country. I really thought [sponsorship] would really help establish her brand. It just worked out great. It's been an amazing team to work with.
"It was the perfect setup — Snickers bite size, and Rosie's bite-sized. She loves the brand."
That sponsorship is a sign of how far Napravnik has come since her early days at Pimlico.
"It's unbelievable," said Robinson, whose colt Zarroc finished 10th in the seventh race Friday at Pimlico with Napravnik aboard. "She's changed my life, because normally I wouldn't ride a girl. Normally, I'd be like, 'Oh no, I got a girl.'
"She is so excited to come back and run in the Preakness. If she could win the Preakness, it would be unbelievable."