BALTIMORE (Reuters) - When Rosie Napravnik first became a jockey, she went by the name A.R. Napravnik “so no one would know I was a girl.”
A lot has changed in the last decade for the diminutive jockey with the soft demeanor but tenacious get-out-of-my-way attitude on the racetrack.
Napravnik, who was born Anna Rose but now goes by the name of Rosie, has established herself as one of the best jockeys in North America, regardless of gender.
On Saturday, she hopes to become the first woman to win the Preakness Stakes when she rides Bayern in the $1.5 million classic at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore.
She’ll be riding for Hall of Fame trainer and five-time Preakness winner Bob Baffert, who said he picked Napravnik purely for her talent.
“A lot of jockeys are intimidated when they ride for me. She’s not,” Baffert said.
”She just rides her horse. I never say hardly a word to her. I just throw her on there, that’s it, and I just leave her alone.
“She does her homework and I don’t have to say too much to her.”
Napravnik began competing in Pony Club events in New Jersey when she was around four years old and by age seven, she set her sights on becoming a jockey.
She won her debut race at Pimlico in 2005 at the age of 17 and is making her second appearance in the Preakness after finishing third aboard Mylute last year.
“In the earlier years of my career I just wanted to ride, ride, ride, ride and win, win, win,” she told Reuters.
”Now I’ve got the opportunity to ride really big horses and ride in prestigious races like Triple Crown races and Breeders’ Cup.
”Now I‘m really hungry for those good horses. It doesn’t take away from the every day. I enjoy what I do always. But now, in the back of my mind, I‘m always looking for the big horse.
“I love riding in big races and I’ve done considerably well for the small amount of races that I’ve ridden at this level compared to some of the guys have been doing it for years.”
On 15 mounts for Baffert, Napravnik has eight wins and three seconds with earnings topping $1 million. Three of those triumphs have been in Grade I races.
Despite the impressive numbers, Baffert said the 25-year-old Napravnik is still improving.
”She’s a great rider and I think she’s getting better and better,“ he said. ”She’s better this year than she was last year. I’ve seen her really changing a lot.
“Once you have it, you still need the horse underneath you. A great jockey like her keeps a good horse from getting beat.”
Napravnik is the first female jockey to compete in all three jewels of the Triple Crown, and the only woman to have won the Kentucky Oaks, a race she has won twice.
The only female jockey to win a Triple Crown race is Julie Krone, who won the 1993 Belmont Stakes on Colonial Affair.
On Saturday, Kentucky-bred Bayern will take on heavy favorite California Chrome, and eight other horses in the mile-and-three-16ths (1900 meters) feature at Pimlico.
In the colt’s last start at the Derby trial, Napravnik guided Bayern across the finish line first but was relegated to second for interference in the stretch, a decision that still annoys here.
“There was not a whole lot of interference in any part of that race,” she bristled.
Reporting By Steve Ginsburg; editing by Julian Linden