LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Far from the maddening crowd on the Churchill Downs backstretch, Rosie Napravnik is minding her own business, which is helping her husband Joe Sharp train more than 40 thoroughbreds based in various states. She says she's happy and looks it. She claims not to miss the hoopla that comes with being the world's best female jockey.
Last November she stunned the racing world by announcing her pregnancy and retirement only moments after winning the Breeders Cup Distaff aboard Untapable, arguably her most important victory in a career that was blowing up the glass ceiling for female riders. It was almost like a queen abdicating her throne at the zenith of her power.
Only 26 at the time, Rosie's future seemed to have no limits. Surely she was on a collision course with the Kentucky Derby roses, the only variable being time. She held a position of respect and acceptance that had belonged to no previous female jockey, not even the great Julie Krone. She was what the pioneers of the 1960s and 1970s had in mind when they were working the bush-league circuit, often literally fighting to get mounts.
And then, amazingly, she walked away to be a mom.
Wednesday, instead of worrying about her Derby mount, she was in her husband's office in Barn A at Trackside, the satellite training center for Churchill Downs just off Poplar Level Road. For years, the property was home to the Louisville Downs harness racing track. But now the grandstand has been razed and all that's left is the track and a few barns.
At 9:45 a.m., a veterinarian's truck pulled up outside Barn A, forcing Rosie to break away from an interview. She talked with the vet quietly for a few minutes, then returned to finish the interview. She spoke in clipped tones, never betraying an emotion, although she did get a bit annoyed when asked if she and Joe had picked the baby's name.
"No, no, no names yet," she said. "Haven't thought about it."
Understand this about Rosie Napravnik: She's a tough kid from New Jersey who doesn't waste a lot of time on sentiment. She's no-nonsense, all business, and focused totally on the moment. She's perfectly content to be working at Trackside because she has no interest in doing interviews. She has no regrets or second thoughts about her decision to retired. Period. Next question.
She and Sharp both come from horse families. He's three years older than Rosie and has a daughter, Aiyana, from a previous marriage to jockey Chamisa Goodwin. A former jockey, Sharp turned to training in 2006 and retained Rosie to ride a horse for him in 2009 at Penn National. They were married in 2011.
Owner Ken Ramsey, who has known both for years, says "they go together like ham and eggs." In last year's Kentucky Derby, Sharp was the assistant trainer and Rosie the jockey for Ramsey's Vicar's In Trouble, who won the Louisiana Derby to earn his trip to Kentucky. On Derby Day, the colt was bet down from 30-1 to 20-1 -- mostly because of Rosie -- but finished last in the 19-horse field.
A couple of months later, Sharp left trainer Mike Maker to start his own stable and Rosie joined him after the Breeders Cup. Their stable is based in Kentucky and Louisiana. In her new life, Rosie is focused entirely on helping Joe be successful. And, of course, there's the baby.
She knows the baby is a boy, and her due date is June 9, about three days after the Belmont Stakes, the third jewel in racing's Triple Crown. That's also the 10th anniversary, to the day, of Rosie's first riding victory. Listed in the program as A.R. Napravnik in order to hide her gender, she booted home Ringofdiamonds at Pimlico for trainer Richard "Dickie" Small.
From then until her retirement, she racked up milestone after milestone. In 2012, she became the first female rider to win the Kentucky Oaks (aboard Believe You Can) and surpassed Krone's records for wins and earnings for a female jockey. In 2013, she became the first female rider to compete in all the Triple Crown races. Riding Mylute, she was fifth in the Derby and third in the Preakness, the best finishes for a female rider in both those classics.
And then came 2014 and Untapable, who gave Rosie her second win in both the Oaks and the Breeders Cup (she won the 2013 Juvenile aboard Shanghai Bobby). At the time of her retirement, Napravnik ranked sixth nationally in wins and fifth in earnings. For her nine-year career, her earnings were $72,396,717.
After the baby is born, Rosie says she has no plans to return to the saddle. Maybe she will, maybe she won't. She wants to be the best mom she can and not think past that. She and Joe might also want to have another baby. "Maybe I'll never ride again," she says.
If so, that would be a disappointment to all the fans she captivated, especially the females. Girls of all ages rooted for Rosie. It's too bad racing's marketing efforts are so far behind the times. Her popularity had grown to the point where it was easy to see a line of Rosie dolls, Rosie posters, and a line of Rosie clothes. And if and when the day came that Rosie won the roses, well, that would have been a marketer's dream.
Asked who she likes in this year's Derby, Rosie mentioned International Star, who's owned by her friend Ramsey, and American Pharoah, the likely morning-line favorite. But she said she hasn't really studied much and definitely has no plans to attend the 141st running.
"Not riding," she said. "I'll be as far away from Churchill Downs as I can possibly be."
Billy Reed is a longtime sportswriter and WAVE3.com contributor who lives in Louisville.
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