SARATOGA SPRINGS -- It's been said that there are two types of people in this world: Those who are afraid of life, and those who meet it head on. Rosie Napravnik never would have become who she is at age 24 without taking risks.
Her decision to ride full time at Saratoga took Napravnik out of her comfort zone, but avoiding challenges never has been her style. Four months after moving to Lynbrook to make New York her base, the redhead from New Jersey is making her mark at the Spa.
For many years, as the gates open for the meeting's first race, track announcer Tom Durkin has led the crowd in a chorus of "And they're off at Saratoga!" Napravnik stole the opener on a closer, 13-1 shot Nine O Wonderful, and smiled in the winner's circle. For someone who's 5-3, 114 pounds, her strength as a finisher is impressive. "If you ever shook her hand,'' trainer Kelly Breen said, "you'd know why.''
Four races later, Napravnik coasted by 12 lengths on first-time starter Kauai Katie, and two days afterward, she won the Grade II Sanford Stakes for Breen on another promising 2-year-old, the colt Bern Identity.
"The meet couldn't have started any better for me,'' she said. "Winning that first race was excellent. It's been extremely exciting. Saratoga is great with all of the new 2-year-olds coming out of the woodwork, and I've been lucky to get on four of the top ones.''
She'll be riding two of them for Todd Pletcher on Sunday -- Kauai Katie in the Grade II, 6 1/2-furlong Adirondack Stakes for fillies and the colt Shanghai Bobby in the Grade II, 6 1/2-furlong Saratoga Special. Pletcher, as usual, is the meet's leading trainer, and Napravnik is glad her agent, Matt Muzikar, has made inroads into his barn. Napravnik rode for Pletcher in 2009 at Delaware Park and during two winters on Aqueduct's inner track. "Todd does a lot of business with Matt, and he has a great outfit, one of the best,'' she said.
Halfway through the 40-day meet, Napravnik's seven wins, 13 seconds and 14 thirds and she ranks 10th in the standings. "I've been doing very well at Saratoga,'' she said, "but I always feel like I could be doing better.''
Napravnik has a unique situation in her personal life because she often competes against her husband, Joe Sharp, an assistant trainer for Mike Maker. She downplays it, emphasizing it's always business and never personal. Before a June stakes at Belmont Park, Sharp was speaking with the owner of a Maker horse he'd just saddled when Napravnik entered the paddock. She made eye contact with Sharp, gave him a little wave and, without pausing, kept walking toward her mount.
"When we're in a race and I'm riding a horse that's not one of Mike Maker's, we're just opponents, and that's pretty much all it comes down to,'' Napravnik said. "When we started dating and working together, we had to figure out how to do that in a mature way.''
Napravnik is doing much better at the Spa than Maker's barn, which is only 1-for-26. She dismissed that as an issue, saying, "We don't really compare each other's success at all.''
Many guys would consider Sharp the luckiest man in the world to be married to someone who wins megabucks races like the Louisiana Derby and the Kentucky Oaks. The flip side is she is highly publicized while he is relatively anonymous.
"Joe is just really supportive,'' Napravnik said. "We work very well together, and he's been a big part of my success for the last two or three years. I got into riding Maker's horses when Joe and I first met, so we've done a lot of it together. Joe and I have had a lot of fun winning them together.''