When Rosie Napravnik ventures to Pimlico Race Course to ride Bayern in Saturday's 139th running of the Preakness, the 26-year-old riding star can expect an emotional homecoming.
A familiar face will not be there to greet her. Trainer Dickie Small, who gave her a leg up on her very first winner, died April 4.
"There'll be a void at Pimlico," said Napravnik, who guided the Small-trained Ringofdiamonds to victory at Pimlico in her first career ride on June 9, 2005. "When I ride in big races and do well, he's one of the first people I think of. I know how proud of me he would be."
Small's presence will be missed next weekend, but Napravnik can expect a lot of support from family and friends at Pimlico as she attempts to realize a schoolgirl's dream of someday winning the Preakness, as well as the Kentucky Derby.
"It would be just as special. It's a Triple Crown race. It's my home track with all my friends and family around. We'd have half the grandstand cheering for us — that's what would make it special," said Napravnik, who began galloping horses for Small and trainer Holly Robinson at Pimlico while attending Hereford in Baltimore County.
"I would feel like — if I was able to ride the winner of the Preakness — that I was doing it for everybody who got me started in Maryland and who gave me the opportunities that led to Fair Grounds, Kentucky and Saratoga and having a horse in the Preakness."
Napravnik, who finished third aboard Mylute in last year's Preakness, expressed a lot of confidence in the abilities of Bayern, despite his disqualification from first to second in the Derby Trial at Churchill Downs on April 26.
"Coming out of the 1 hole, we had to play a forced hand and go to the lead and it was deeper on the inside of the track. He still ran a good race. He was a game horse," Napravnik said. "The DQ, I don't have much to say about that. He won the race and had to be very gritty to do it."
Napravnik's confidence in Bayern soared during a subsequent five-furlong workout in 581/5 seconds at Churchill on May 5.
"His work was absolutely incredible. He really impresses me in the morning. I was super-excited about him for the Derby Trial and if we're able to have a little more options in positioning, I think he'll be better around two turns than the one-turn mile," she said of Bayern, who galloped 11/2 miles at Churchill on Saturday morning and is scheduled to ship to Pimlico on Wednesday.
Napravnik has become a key player on the national racing stage in recent years, having dominated the Fair Grounds jockey standings three straight years and riding many Grade 1 winners, including Untapable in the Kentucky Oaks (G1) at Churchill on May 2. Yet, the excitement of riding in major stakes such as the Preakness hasn't waned.
"I don't think the big races will ever be old hat. Certainly, I don't think the Triple Crown becomes old hat for anybody," she said. "With the experience of riding in these races more and more often, I'm not overwhelmed by it and can be more prepared each time and know more what to expect."
When she arrives at Pimlico next weekend for yet another big race, she'll pause to reflect on the day Dickie Small gave her a leg up on her first mount.
"I didn't know if I'd be terrible or successful or somewhere in between," she said, "but it's really been the ride of my life."
In other Preakness news:
•St. Elias Stable and West Point Thoroughbreds' Ring Weekend breezed six furlong in 1:131/5 at Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton on Saturday morning in preparation for a possible start in the Preakness..
"He galloped out a mile in 1:41. That's what I was most pleased about: how he galloped out," said trainer Graham Motion, whose Preakness prospect was ridden by longtime assistant and exercise rider Alice Clapham.
Ring Weekend, who captured the Tampa Bay Derby (G3) and finished second in the Calder Derby, missed the Kentucky Derby due to a fever. The gelded son of Tapit missed a few days of training but has been training well since the setback.
"So far, so good," said Motion, who will continue to monitor Ring Weekend's training before committing to the Preakness.
•Trainer Wesley Ward was especially upbeat Saturday as he talked about Pablo Del Monte's six-furlong breeze in 1:12 1/5 at Keeneland, the colt's final workout for the Preakness.
"He's looking great. Couldn't be doing any better," Ward said.
In a change of plans, Pablo Del Monte, who finished third in the Blue Grass Stakes (G1), will be shipped from Lexington, Ky. to Baltimore on Monday rather than on Wednesday. He will be one of five Preakness candidates arriving at Pimlico that day.
Jockey Jeffrey Sanchez, who will ride Pablo Del Monte in the Preakness, was aboard for the breeze, which was done in company with High Wire Kitten. Pablo Del Monte's split times were :12 1/5, :24 4/5, :36 3/5 and :48 4/5, and he galloped out seven furlongs in 1:25.
High Wire Kitten, owned by Ken and Sarah Ramsey, is headed to Baltimore to run in the Hilltop Stakes on Friday.
"She has been working very, very well. It's a good workmate for him," Ward said.
High Wire Kitten and Pablo Del Monte have breezed together for about a month.
"Two weeks out from the Blue Grass we put her six or seven lengths in front and it was tough on him to catch her, and he did," Ward said. "John Velazquez worked him that day. I think he ran so hard in the Blue Grass that it had an effect on him, but now he's really getting to her. And she's working very, very good; she working three-quarters of a mile in :12 herself. And they are finishing heads up.
"It's everything you'd want to see in the last two works. He's coming into this race as good as he could possibly be and doing everything right. I really think that Mr. Ramsey's filly is going to run a big race in the Hilltop Stakes."
Ward said he feels good about how Pablo Del Monte is doing a week out from the Preakness. He made the decision to move up the shipping date by a couple of days because the Monday flight is leaving from Lexington's airport, which is very close to Keeneland.
"Everything is flawless right now," he said. "Everything is actually perfect."
•Rontos Racing Stable Corp.'s Social Inclusion visited the racetrack extra early Saturday morning for his morning exercise. Training hours were limited to one hour between 5 and 6 a.m. to accommodate "Canter for a Cure," a fundraising event for breast cancer research that ran between 6 and 11 a.m.
"He went out at 5. We were happy to do it, 'Canter for a Cure' is such a good cause," said Rontos Racing's Ron Sanchez. "He was full of energy. He really likes the track. He galloped a mile and a half and came back with good energy. He was full of himself. He's settled in at Pimlico really nice."
Sanchez reported that Social Inclusion, who finished third in the Wood Memorial (G3) after winning his first two races impressively at Gulfstream Park, is scheduled to gallop again on Sunday at 8:30 a.m. and breeze on Monday.
Jockey Luis Contreras, who has retained the mount aboard the Manny Azpurua-trained colt, is scheduled to be at Pimlico for Social Inclusion's breeze Monday.
•Kentucky Derby (G1) winner California Chrome made an earlier-than-usual appearance on the track at Churchill Downs Saturday for his morning exercise: a gallop of 13/4 miles under exercise rider Willie Delgado.
"I wanted to go out before the track got chewed up," assistant trainer Alan Sherman said of California Chrome, who hit the track at 6:30, about 20 minutes earlier than his norm. "He has been on a 'wet-fast' track before, but I don't know if he has been on a sealed track."
The track had been sealed Friday evening after the 10-race program.
David Lehr, Senior Director of Track Surfaces, said Churchill Downs received two inches of rain after Friday's final race that went off around 7:30 p.m.
California Chrome backtracked to the eighth-pole in a light rain, but by the time he had finished, the rain had increased in intensity.
"We probably haven't had this much rain [in California] all year," said Sherman, son of trainer Art Sherman. "I know we sure could use it."
California Chrome is scheduled to leave for Baltimore on Monday.
"We are supposed to load at the barn at 10 o'clock Monday morning and the plane leaves Lexington at 12:30," Sherman said. "He will train that morning and then go."
•Maryland-based jockey Julian Pimentel will ride Kid Cruz in the Preakness Stakes for trainer Linda Rice. It will be Pimentel's second start in Maryland's signature race; he was up on Norman Asbjornson, who was 11th in 2011.
"It's very exciting to be in those kind of races," Pimentel said, "I'm really looking forward to it. It was a great experience back then. I'm pretty sure this is going to be the same."
Pimentel, 33, rode Kid Cruz to off-the-pace victories in the Private Terms on March 8 at Laurel and the Federico Tesio on April 19 at Pimlico.
"He's a really nice horse," Pimentel said. "I've ridden him twice and he's won both times. He did it going away pretty good. We've got a race on the racetrack, which should help. It's a tough race, but he's tough."
Kid Cruz is scheduled to train at Belmont Park on Monday morning and ship to Pimlico later in the day.
•John Oxley's Illinois Derby (G3) winner Dynamic Impact was scheduled for a workout Saturday morning in preparation for the Preakness, but weather forced assistant trainer Norman Casse to call an audible and scrub the work.
Before the track opened at 6 o'clock, Casse stood in a light rain as tractors floated the track.
"I am afraid this will be the last day we will be able to work," said Casse, son of trainer Mark Casse. "There is more rain coming and who's to say it won't be worse later today or tomorrow?"
In the end, Casse decided to wait a day and instead have Dynamic Impact gallop 11/2 miles under exercise rider Marco Cano at 6:30.
"A lot of my horses didn't go out and I am happy he at least got to gallop," Casse said. "We are prepared to go tomorrow and if not, it is not a big deal and we can go Monday."
Christopher Dunn and Loooch Racing Stable's Ria Antonia, sixth in the Kentucky Oaks (G1) in her most recent start, visited the starting gate and then galloped 11/2 miles under Maurice Sanchez.
"She had blinkers on in the Oaks and we are going to change equipment for her next race; whatever that will be," trainer Tom Amoss said. "She stood in the gate with blinkers off, which is required for an equipment change. We are still up in the air about the Preakness. She will work Sunday or Monday, depending on the weather."
•Daniel Dougherty's seventh-place Kentucky Derby (G1) finisher Ride On Curlin galloped two miles on a sealed sloppy track under Bryan Beccia after the morning renovation break.
With trainer Billy Gowan looking on from the six-furlong gap, Ride On Curlin picked up the pace his second time around the track.
"I loved the way he trained this morning; he was very strong," Gowan said.
Beccia, who has been the colt's regular exercise rider since the first of January, was similarly enthused.
"That second mile was the most aggressive he has been with me all year," Beccia said. "[The Derby] didn't take anything out of him. I think he is better now than he was going in."
Ride On Curlin will return to easy mile gallops the next two mornings before leaving for Pimlico on Monday.
•General a Rod will run in the colors of Skychai Racing in the Preakness. Starlight Racing and Skychai Racing purchased the colt from its original owner J. Armando Rodriquez a few days before the Kentucky Derby.