Elmont, NY — Rosie Napravnik became the first woman ever to win the Kentucky Oaks five weeks ago.
Today, the former Hereford student who began her career in Maryland can become the second woman to win the Belmont – or any Triple Crown race, for that matter – on long shot Five Sixteen. She'll be trying to follow one of her idols, Julie Crone, who won it in 1993 on Colonial Affair.
Five Sixteen has won only once, on Aquedcuct's inner track on March 14 against other maidens. He most recently ran fourth in a nine-furlong allowance race on April 18.
At least he's fresh.
Trained by a New York regular, Dominick Schettino, Five Sixteen is a 30-1 shot on the revised morning line. Bettors are unlikely to treat him so kindly.
Napravnik has breezed the horse three times, and said he moved "nicely." She doesn't anticipate the mile-and-a-half distance being a problem.
When she spoke earlier this week – before I'll Have Another scratched -- she knew the presence of three top horses – Dullahan and Union Rags were the others – would make the race difficult.
"The way I see it we've got just as much chance as probably 8 or 9 of the other horses in the race that aren't the three favorites," she said then. "There's been plenty of long shots that have won the Belmont Stakes so it's just my responsibility to get him the best trip and see what he can do."
And though her win in the Oaks – and the Grade II Peter Pan Stakes here a week later – validated her standing as one of the top jockeys in the country (she's 7th nationally with 108 firsts and nearly $5.5 million in earnings this year), she said it was her appearance in last year's Kentucky Derby that finally slowed all the talk about being a female in what's generally a man's game.
"I feel like an equal with all the other jockeys," she said. "We ride every day together. We're on a level playing field. It's just another day at the office for me."
Besides, she's proven many of the people reluctant to use her on their horses wrong.
"I have had trainers and/or owners that have told me face-to-face – most of the time it goes through my agent – that they just wouldn't ride a girl," she said. "Probably 90 percent of the people who told me that have actually come back and ridden me and we've won races together. That, to me, is a huge feat in itself. I just think there isn't much validity to the sex issue. It just has to do with whether or not you're good at riding races and being a jockey. I think most people nowadays can see that."
She's still relatively new at Belmont, though, having moved here from New Orleans after winning two riding titles at the Fair Grounds. She's third in the jockey standings for the meet that began in late April, with 24 wins in 144 starts. She took a spill earlier this week but was OK, and, as of this writing, has one win in 12 starts over the last three days, riding for big-name trainers such as Dale Romans, Nick Zito and Michael Matz.
Running two winters at Aqueduct a few years ago helped introduce her to trainers and owners here, so she wasn't starting from scratch. It is clearly the most competition she's faced, though.
"It's tough to get in when you're coming into a new jockey colony, which it always is no matter where you go, but I think having been acquainted with the owners and trainers here has made it easier to come now," she said. "Although this is the toughest jockey colony in the country, or maybe in the world. It's ruthless. It's cut-throat. You'll be second on a horse, and they take you off. And you have 10 other extremely talented jockeys to choose from. So it has been really tough, so I've just be really working to give these people a reason to ride me and let them see that I can compete with the rest of them, which we've done a good job of so far."
She admitted that the Belmont track -- long, with deep sand -- took some getting used to. Before Mario Gutierrez's horse was scratched, much of the conversation centered on whether he'd be able to adjust.
"It's completely different dynamic of a race track because it's so big and the turns are so long," she said. "I feel comfortable having been riding on it for over a month now. It's all just about timing. I'm sure [Mario will] be fine. It's part of our job to be able to adjust to new places, tracks, surfaces all the time. I feel comfortable with the track. I'm glad that I have been here, riding the meet, to get used it."