LOUISVILLE — The red-headed girl who shocked Maryland horse racing with her daring debut in 2005 was crowned an elite jockey Friday at Churchill Downs.
Rosie Napravnik won the Kentucky Oaks on Believe You Can. She is the first woman to win the most important race for 3-year-old fillies in its 138-year history, and she did so in front of a crowd of 112,552.
“This is how it feels to have your dreams come true,” Napravnik said.
Believe You Can convincingly won a late duel, with Napravnik, a former Hereford High School student and top jockey in Maryland, extending her fist in celebration as she crossed the finish line.
She had pulled even with Broadway’s Alibi, ridden by John Velazquez, near the turn for home and took the lead at mid-stretch.
“It was almost intimidating,” she said. “I thought, ‘Here we go. Either we go get it or we don’t.’ ”
Napravnik became emotional in her post-race interview on the track.
“I cried a little,” she said. “But I don’t think I’m done crying yet.”
Napravnik, who also won the 12th race, began the week hoping to get another ride in the Kentucky Derby — she finished ninth last year on Pants on Fire, the best finish by a woman in that race — but her horse, Mark Valeski, was pulled.
Baltimore native Larry Collmus feels less nervous this year, his second as the voice of the Triple Crown.
Even though he knows, going into Saturday’s fairly open Kentucky Derby, he probably shouldn’t be.
“Last year, the way it set up, it actually turned out 100 times better than I thought it would,” the Mount St. Joseph graduate said. “By the time they turned for home, I could keep my eyes on the horses in front. This year, with the speed, I may have a lot of closers to watch.”
That Animal Kingdom, a horse with strong Maryland ties, won his Triple Crown debut was gratifying for Collmus. He grew up hanging around the state’s track, calling races into a tape recorder and made his debut in 1985 at Bowie.
The only scratch for the Kentucky Derby, My Adonis, will race at Pimlico on Saturday in the Canonero II Stakes. My Adonis was the first horse ever put on the also-eligible list for the Derby, but no spot opened.
My Adonis is the even-money morning line favorite at the featured Cananero II, which often sends horses to the Preakness and/or Belmont.