Could Rosie Napravnik Be the First Woman to Win the Kentucky Derby? (VIDEO)

In the starting gate at the 137th running of the Kentucky Derby today will be one A. R. Napravnik — that is, Anna Rose Napravnik. The New Jersey native will be the sixth woman to ride in the Derby since the “Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports” first occurred in 1875 in Churchill Downs in Louisville. Should Napravnik win the race on her horse, 3-year-old Louisiana Derby champion Pants on Fire (a 20-1 shot), she would become the first female jockey to win the Kentucky Derby.

Here’s Napravnik winning the Louisiana Derby on Pants on Fire:

Napravnik has 1,121 victories to her name — with the total purse winnings for those horses at nearly $30 million — since she got her jockey’s license at the age of 17. She won her first victory on the track astride her first mount, Ringofdiamonds, on June 9, 2005. But when she started running, she rode as A. R. Napravnik because, as she told the New York Times, “I didn’t want anyone to know I was a girl.”

While noting that the “racetrack is still a man’s world,” Napravnik also says:

“Every day I hear a trainer or owner say ‘I don’t want to ride a girl or you’re not strong enough.’ But I also can tell you I’m riding horses now for a lot of those guys I heard it from.”

The Star-Ledger describes Napravnik’s upbringing on a horse farm in New Jersey horse country:

Ambition accelerated Napravnik at an early age. She began racing on a 12-hand pony at age 7, and quickly progressed through each division. At 13, she tagged along with a friend to a local steeplechase event and was introduced to Hall of Fame horseman Jonathan Sheppard.

“She always had a certain poise for her age. She seemed to have a quiet self-confidence,” said Sheppard, the leading American steeplechase trainer in history who also trained two Breeders’ Cup winners over flat surfaces.

After Napravnik won a junior horse race for Sheppard at 16, she decided her lifelong dream was worth pursuing full time.

She left Warren Hills High School after her sophomore year and followed her older sister Jasmine to Maryland. Napravnik moved in with Holly Robinson, a horsewoman, and she began galloping horses in the mornings while attending Hereford High School in Parkton, Md., during the afternoons. In the evening, she caught up on missed credits at night school.

“I was so overworked and tired and you know what, it didn’t even bother me,” Napravnik said. “It was exactly what I wanted to be doing.”

The hard work paid off. Legendary Maryland trainer Dickie Small gave Napravnik her first professional mount in June 9, 2005, at Pimlico on a long shot named RingofDiamonds. And in her very first race, Napravnik went to the lead and never looked back.

The Star-Ledger notes that Napravnik ranks seventh among jockeys in the United States according to Equibase, which is the official source for thoroughbred racing information. She’s crossed the finish line 92 times in 445 starts and won first, second or third place 52 percent of the time.

Among female jockeys, Julie Krone is the only female rider in the Hall of Fame; she was the first woman to win a Triple Crown race when she won the Belmont Stakes aboard Colonial Affair in 1993. The first woman to ride in the Kentucky Derby was Diane Crump 1970; Rosemary Homeister was the last in 2003. As the New York Times observes, “none have finished higher than 11th.”

Will Napravnik aboard Pants on Fire finish higher? Or even show, place or win?

Based on her record and her persistence, Napravnik’s already winning the most important race of all, showing that she is indeed “strong enough” — more than good enough — to ride all the way to the winner’s circle.

Below is a video of Napravnik describing her career goals:


Photo of Napravnik by WEBN-TV


Heather H.
Heather H6 years ago

Surprised and disappointed to see a pro-horse racing article on Care2. What's next, a story glorifying greyhound racing? My sister operates a nonprofit horse rescue and recently had to humanely euthanize a mare that she rescued from a kill-buyer auction who was in such deplorable condition that she could not be saved. Oh, did I mention that this mare was a "retired" racehorse that had won nearly $100K during her short "career", suffered common race-related injuries, and was "rewarded" by being dumped at an auction to be sold by the pound for human consumption overseas? This tragedy happens every day in the horse world. Shame on you, Care2.

Pam F.
Pam F6 years ago

Spot on, Parvez!

Parvez Z.
Parvez Zuberi6 years ago

I consider horse racing or any other animal racing for gambling is cruelty to animals irrespective who rides

J. C.
Jess Carson6 years ago

I am sure that many race horses enjoy the "thrill of the race", they should not be forced or cruely trained and esp, not drugged to run their heart out. And it should be against the law to send and animal that was purposely bred for something (such as racing) to the slaughter-house if it does not perform up to expectations!!

Lulu L.
Lulu L6 years ago

You go girl! You show those boys what a girl can do! Best of the best for you.

Alexa H.
Alexa H6 years ago

I can't believe this is on Care2! Horses are born to run, yes - they are beautiful animals with incredible capabilities and should be able to gallivant - FREELY. Hunter W hit the nail on the head, unknowingly - "These horses were bred to run" - BRED to run. There are approximately 30,000 horses a year that are bred to run, and of them, 10-15K are sent to slaughter houses 'out of the gate' because they aren't up to snuff.
I grew up around horses. I have the utmost respect for these natural athletes - but exposing them to brutal training, running them ragged for human entertainment and financial gain, and then dismissing them when they are too old, injured, or just not good enough... that's cruelty, and abuse.
Shame on you, Care2, for running this article, and shame on those who support horse racing.

Hunter W.
Hunter W.6 years ago

I don't agree with all the comments talking about how horrible horse racing is. Do you people not realize that these horses were bred to run?? that's what they love to do. Your arguments are that the horses are put into a situation that they didn't agree to. Well, what about all your pets? Do you think your horse at home likes sitting in a stall or a field for it's whole life? Haven't you noticed how pumped up and ready to race the horses are before being put into the starting gate? This is their life, and it's what they love to do. They are highly trained athletes. Yes, there are injuries here and there, but human athletes get injured too! Stop fighting to end something you can't end, and start fighting to fix the problems you don't agree with. You will make more progress that way.

Sharon B.
Sharon Blodinger6 years ago

Rosie didn't win because she didn't ride the best horse! This has absolutely nothing to do with women's rights, never did. If she used her initials, so be it, that was her choice & and suggestion of her agent.

Pam F.
Pam F6 years ago

I am fully in agreement with all those who have said that this is a totally inappropriate post to be on Care2, and very disappointed to see it here. Anyone with half a brain knows full well the abusive lives these animals lead, the great numbers of "unsuitable " animals which end up in slaughterhouses, and anyone who can bear to watch the way they are mercilessly thrashed during the race, can lay very little claim to being compassionate human beings.
What is there for any woman to be "proud" of in showing that she can match it with the men in cruelty to animals! For shame, I say, and shame on Care2.
I'm very relieved to see that none of my friends are ones who are supporting this ill-considered concept of "women's rights" having anything whatever to do with being equal to men in animal abuse!

Veronica C.
Veronica C6 years ago

She didn't win, but she gave it her all. She made it to the Derby! And she doesn't have to hide that she's a girl anymore.