LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Rosie Napravnik and Joe Sharp share a life, a profession and a unique dream. No Louisiana-bred thoroughbred or female rider has won the Kentucky Derby, and Saturday, Napravnik will try to make history twice on long shot Vicar's in Trouble. Although Sharp is behind the scenes, his emotional investment in the colt is just as big.
Napravnik's husband is Mike Maker's assistant trainer, and from the beginning, Sharp was a major part of Vicar's in Trouble's development. "Joe has been overseeing Vicar, and he's been hands-on with him before he ever ran," Napravnik said. "So he's done nearly all of the work in the morning with him, and basically done the building."
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Maker downplayed the significance of employing a husband and wife. "Joe's like any other assistant, he just happens to be married to a jockey we use frequently," Maker said. "He shows up and does his job and that's about it. Rosie does well for us, and there's no special consideration because she's married to Joe."
The couple had a Derby dress rehearsal in Tuesday's second race at Churchill Downs, in which Sharp gave Napravnik a leg up on a Maker horse, Battle Hardened. After his wife finished second, Sharp put his arm around her and gave her a peck on the cheek.
Sharp, 29, and Napravnik honeymooned in fall 2011 on a horseback safari in South Africa. Many would consider Sharp one of the luckiest men in the world to be married to an attractive woman (Napravnik does modeling for racing causes) who also is a world-class rider. He smiled and said, "I would be foolish to argue with them."
Vicar's in Trouble became a Derby contender at the Fair Grounds, where Napravnik emerged as a star three years ago. The dark bay won three of four races there, including the Louisiana Derby by 31/2 lengths, leading throughout. A colt who cost a measly $8,000 at a yearling sale in Opelousas, La., has earned $788,900 for Ken Ramsey, more than $700,000 more than he cost as a 2-year-old.
The son of Into Mischief isn't much of a looker. "Well, he's on the small side," Maker said. "He's not the most attractive horse. But he is well balanced, and the last few months he's been maturing. He wouldn't win any beauty contests, but he makes up for it by trying hard."
Ever since her Derby debut in 2011 -- ninth with Pants on Fire -- Napravnik has been a regular in the classics. She called her 2012 Kentucky Oaks victory on Believe You Can her most memorable moment. She said although she's fascinated by the run-up to the world's most famous race, it's "not really Derby fever." Her temperature is rising.
"I've never been more excited about the first weekend in May," she said. "I'm riding the favorite [Untapable] in the Oaks, and the fact that Joe and I are going to be running for the roses together is incredible. This is definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience."
Sharp was high on Vicar's in Trouble the first time he worked him out last September. "I came home and told Rosie, 'This horse is fast and I really like him,' " Sharp said. "I never thought then about him making it to the Derby, but it's really neat. We always talked about what if we could do that together, but what are the chances, let alone with one I've been personally involved with?"
Napravnik is the first woman rider to win the Oaks and the Louisiana Derby (twice) and lead the Fair Grounds standings. "I think she's going to go down as the best female jockey of all time," Maker said. "Her accomplishments speak for themselves. She's done well for me and she's a great person, so I have nothing but positive remarks on her.
"Someone has to give her her first Derby win, and I hope it's me."