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Lynbrook woman to ride in Belmont Stakes

Believe You Can, ridden by Rosie Napravnik, heads

Believe You Can, ridden by Rosie Napravnik, heads to the winners circle after winning the Kentucky Oaks. (May 4, 2012) Credit: Getty Images

Rosie Napravnik recalls coming to Belmont Park in 2002 as a teenager, to watch War Emblem in the Belmont Stakes when the colt was vying for the Triple Crown.

"I remember it so clearly, how huge of a deal it was," she said. "I was riding horses and racing ponies and already deciding I wanted to become a jockey."

Ten years and a seeming lifetime of racing later, the 24-year-old jockey will herself be riding in the Belmont Stakes on Saturday -- only the second woman ever to do so. Julie Krone, who rode in five Belmonts, remains the only female jockey to win a Triple Crown event, when she won the Belmont in 1993 on Colonial Affair.

Napravnik, who lives in Lynbrook with her husband, Joe Sharp, an assistant horse trainer for Michael Maker, will be on a bay named Five Sixteen. He is considered a long shot compared with I'll Have Another, who will be put to the test to see if he can succeed where War Emblem failed and become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978.

But Napravnik, in her first full season at Belmont, already has made her mark. Last month, she became the first woman to win the prestigious Kentucky Oaks, the $1 million race of thoroughbred fillies at Churchill Downs. Last year she rode in the Kentucky Derby, coming in ninth.

Krone is effusive in her praise of Napravnik, who is currently ranked seventh nationally among jockeys, with winnings of more than $5 million this year, according to Equibase, the official source for thoroughbred racing statistics.

"She is something else. You've got to beat this package," she said. "She has this God-given talent and rides in this smooth, tight little ball."

Former jockey Richard Migliore, now a TV co-anchor for the New York Racing Association and head of an apprentice jockey program at Belmont, agreed.

"She's very talented," he said. "I like what I see. She's starting to get opportunities at Grade 1 horses." Grade 1 races are those with purses of $250,000 or higher, such as the Belmont Stakes.

Growing up in High Bridge, N.J., Napravnik was constantly around things equine: Her mother trained event horses and her father was a farrier. She is well aware she stands on the shoulders of female jockeys who often faced hostility from trainers, owners and other jockeys after the first woman was granted a jockey's license in the late 1960s.

"It's nothing like what they went through," she said.

Still, she has had her own barriers to cross. "Multiple trainers and owners" have told her "I just don't ride girls," she said.

Her growing success is starting to alter that.

"About 90 percent have ridden me since then," she said, smiling.

She's also had her share of serious injuries, breaking her collarbone, vertebrae, wrist, leg and arm in five bad spills since becoming a jockey in 2005.

"There's no fear factor" when she gets back on a horse after a fall, she said, just an intense determination to avoid another one and the knowledge she is not immune from danger.

Napravnik races an average of five or six horses a day, she said. She works out the horses, watches videos of previous races and studies the competition her mounts will face. Her strategy, she said, is to always figure out what will work best for her horse.

"I look at my horse. I focus on what his best trip would be and then I figure out how to get him that trip," she said.

That, she said, will be her strategy for Five Sixteen on Saturday.

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