She's a Riding Giant

Anna Napravnik
Anna Napravnik, an apprentice jockey at Laurel Park, is one of the best jockeys at the track. (Toni L. Sandys - The Washington Post)
By John Scheinman
Special to The Washington Post
Monday, April 17, 2006

Jockey agent John Faltynski, who works with 18-year old Anna Rose Napravnik, recalled a recent post position draw in the Laurel Park racing office for one seven-horse field that turned comical. The officials began matching the posts with the entries, and nearly every trainer had his Napravnik named to ride.

"In a seven-horse field it was, 'Number two, Napravnik; number four, Napravnik.' Now, everybody's saying I'm in trouble," Faltynski recalled, laughing. " 'Number three, Napravnik; number six, Napravnik; number one, Napravnik.' She was named on five of the seven horses. The next day, I said to Rosie, 'Who do you want to ride?' She said, 'That's what I pay you the big bucks for, fella,' and walked out."

In less than a year, Napravnik has harnessed a running current of poise, natural talent and a voracious appetite for hard work to become the most successful female jockey in the country. Since winning on her very first mount, a horse named Ringofdiamonds last June at Pimlico, Napravnik went from an unknown to the seventh-winningest jockey in the United States, 24th in earnings and the only female jockey in the nation's top 100.

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Last Thursday, about an hour before the first race at Laurel, Napravnik was shuffling around slowly in thick, white socks under flip-flops, her head of wiry red hair bunched tightly inside a stretchy do-rag, dark rings under her tired eyes.

A week after missing two days of riding with the flu, Napravnik was back taking mounts as the leading jockey in Maryland, only now suffering from strep throat.

"It doesn't really affect my riding," she said, wearily speaking low, trying to conserve her voice. "I'm a little bit stronger when I'm healthy, but it doesn't matter as soon as the gates open."

A hacking case of strep throat wasn't going to keep her off her horses and possibly allow another rider to get on them and win.

"She's smart," said veteran Maryland trainer Eddie Gaudet. "Very, very smart."

In the Laurel Park winter meet that ended Saturday, Napravnik towered over her fellow Maryland riders, winning 99 races in 72 days on mounts earning $1,662,940. Runner-up Erick Rodriguez won 56 races and $1,087,630.

Riders such as Napravnik, who are still serving their apprenticeship, rarely get calls to ride in stakes races because they lose the benefit of their weight allowance. Jockeys are considered apprentices for one year after their fifth victory and while competing in non-stakes races are permitted to carry up to 10 pounds less than journeymen jockeys in the same race.

After Napravnik won the Harrison Johnson Memorial Handicap on March 18, however, then came back the next week aboard Our Peaks to score an electrifying win in the Private Terms Stakes at odds of 74-1, nobody cared any longer what she weighed.

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