BALTIMORE -- When Rosie Napravnik was a 16-year-old nobody, Dickie Small was in her corner. Now she's a star, and her mentor is gone.
Small, a Green Beret in Vietnam and a Maryland trainer for more than 40 years, died April 4 after a long illness. While in high school, Napravnik galloped horses for him and trainer Holly Robinson. Small was there in Pimlico's paddock on June 9, 2005, to give the nervous 17-year-old a leg up on her first career mount, Ringofdiamonds. Minutes later, they were in the winner's circle.
"There's a void at Pimlico," said Napravnik, who rides Bayern in Saturday's 139th Preakness Stakes. "When I do well in big races, he's one of the first people I think of. I know how proud of me he would be."
No woman has ridden or trained a Preakness winner, and it's the first time the field will include a female rider, trainer (Linda Rice) and a filly (Ria Antonia). Napravnik, a two-time Kentucky Oaks winner, is the third woman who's had a Preakness ride. She was third on Mylute in her debut last year.
She said a Preakness victory would be "just as special" as winning the Kentucky Derby. "I would feel like I was doing it for everybody who got me started in Maryland and gave me the opportunities that led to Fair Grounds, Kentucky and Saratoga. I didn't know if I'd be terrible or successful or somewhere in between, but it's really been the ride of my life."