Ladies have led the way at Saratoga in recent years. Since 2009, superstar fillies like Rachel Alexandra and Havre De Grace have dazzled Spa faithful, while Linda Rice became the first female to win a training title. This year it could be a female jockey who shines brightest. YNN’s Matt Hunter sat down with star rider Rosie Napravnik days before her first Saratoga meet.
SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - "As much as I was confident, to actually be the winner was something I couldn't have imagined. The point in the race when I knew I was going to win, it was surreal."
Rosie Napravnik stamped her name into the history books with bold letters Kentucky Derby weekend. On the eve of the Run for the Roses, the New Jersey native became the first female jockey to ever win the Kentucky Oaks, a prominent race for three-year-old fillies.
"A lot of people ask, 'How does it feel to be the first woman?'” Napravnik said during an interview at Belmont Park last week. “Well, it feels exactly the same as it would if I was a man. “You know, the thrill of winning a race like that is so out of this world."
Just 24, Napravnik has already been racing for seven years and has amassed more than 1,000 wins. Naturally, she's drawn comparisons to the great Julie Krone.
Last year she started to gain national attention, earning her first ever Kentucky Derby mount, on board Pants On Fire.
"It's very surreal to realize you're in the middle of your dream coming true and that's what it was like riding in the Kentucky Derby, winning the Kentucky Oaks this year," Napravnik said.
While she's spent most of her time riding in Louisiana, Rosie moved to the New York circuit full time earlier this year and is about to begin her first full summer at Saratoga.
"Saratoga is just so exciting,” Napravnik said. “Everyone's told me over and again that you'll never work so hard in your life and I'm extremely excited for that. The racing is so historical and it's really exciting being a part of that."
While it's a fact that's impossible to ignore, don't be surprised if Napravnik shoots you a dirty look if you refer to her as a "female jockey."
As she puts it, she and her fellow ladies aren't doing anything different from their male counterparts.
"There's no gender difference in the races, so we're competing at the same level, working just as hard and you know, we can compete with the guys," Napravnik said.
Anyone who underestimates Napravnik for her gender would be wise to check this year's jockey standings. She currently ranks in the top 10 in North America with more than $6 million in earnings.
Eight months after marrying her longtime boyfriend, Joe Sharp, an assistant to trainer Michael Maker, Napravnik enters Saratoga on top of her game professionally and personally.
She seems poised to win over the Spa faithful and perhaps more than a few races while she's at it.
"When you're in the moment, there's not a lot of time to think about it but when you reflect back after the fact, that's when you realize how historical it is and now special it is to be riding there [at Saratoga]," Napravnik said.
On the second to last day of the Belmont spring/summer meet, Napravnik rode four winners across the finish line, helping her to a fourth place finish in the overall meet standings.