Rosie Napravnik keeps turning heads at racetrack with both style and success

Kristian Dyer
May 16, 2013

She is the Danica Patrick of her sport except that she actually wins her fair share of races.

Meet Rosie Napravnik, one of the best jockeys of her generation who is as much about substance as she is about flair.

All told, the 25-year-old New Jersey native has won 1,553 of her 8,075 career races and has career earnings of $48,963,221. She ran Mylute to fifth in the Kentucky Derby, the best ever finish by a woman in the race. She'll ride the same colt in Saturday's running of The Preakness and will become only the third female jockey in 138 runnings of the second Triple Crown race.

The pressure to carry the standard for women in her sport is just something that doesn’t register to Napravnik, however.

“I don’t feel that at all," Napravnik told Yahoo! Sports. "A lot of other people probably look at it that way. I really do this because I love to do it. People might just be noticing me now but I’ve been doing this for eight years, riding against the guys every day. I don’t feel responsible to break any records or win any particular races. But it’s something I’d like to do for me personally."

Napravnik said that her showing at Churchill Downs doesn’t mean anything special just because it was the best ever finish by a woman in the Derby.

“I can tell you I’d be much happier if I was third, I only missed that by a nose. For me, it feels like it is possible that I will win the Derby someday. It’s not for sure but it is possible I could win it. I am close enough to taste it. Now I don’t want to stop until that happens.”

Last year saw Napravnik reached the upper heights of her sport. She finished the year eighth on the year-end North American Leader board for jockeys, the highest ever finish for a female. She earned $12,451,713 in purse winnings in 2012 from 193 wins, 191 shows, and 167 places.

This year she is in peak form, winning nearly a staggering one-fourth of her races.

Yet despite her success, there are no major television commercials featuring her, unlike Patrick, and no major features on Sports Center detailing her every race. Instead, Napravnik is going out there and not just hanging with the boys but winning.

“That’s really what it is all about. The fact that I’m female doesn’t matter to me; I would do this if I was male or female,” Napravnik said. “I’m not doing it to be any kind of superstar. I just want to accomplish what I’ve worked so hard to get to this level. There are races I’d like to win — it doesn’t matter if I’m female.”

No woman has ever won the Preakness and this Saturday gives her a golden opportunity to do so. But Napravnik isn’t concerned about the hype; she just wants to win.

Speak to Napravnik long and it becomes clear that this isn’t a grand crusade for her, that her job riding horses isn’t about striking a blow for equality or proving a point. Those things are nice and she takes pride in being a role model but what it boils down to for Napravnik is winning and doing that as much as possible. The fact that she is a female in the sport doesn’t matter as much as her passion for horses.

Growing up, she fell in love with horses early. Living in northwest New Jersey in apart of the state that truly is the “Garden State” where the landscape is dotted by farms and pastoral settings, Napravnik grew up appreciating the outdoors. When her mom brought home a video of the Triple Crown winners, she popped it into the VCR and “watched it over and over and over.”

She fell in love with the sport, a love that has taken her into a predominantly malesport to now the winner’s circle.

“Any jockey that comes in now and that’s all I had to do — I had to prove myself that I could be competitive at this level,” Napravnik said. “I don’t think it had much to do with gender. If you can win races you’ll be respected.”