Believe You Can, ridden by Rosie Napravnik, heads to the winners circle after winning the Kentucky Oaks, one day before the 138th running of the Kentucky Derby, at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, Friday. — AFP
LOUISVILLE, Kentucky — Rosie Napravnik became the first woman jockey to win the Kentucky Oaks when she steered Believe You Can to victory in the 138th running of the three-year-old fillies’ classic Friday at Churchill Downs.
Twelve months after she came within a whisker of winning the mile and one eighth (1,800m) race, Napravnik broke through to win the $1 million event with a superbly judged ride.
“It’s unbelievable, I’m just so happy,” said Napravnik. “I cried a little but I don’t think I’m done crying yet.” Trailing Broadway’s Alibi to the home turn, Napravnik made her move approaching the iconic Twin Spires, passing the leader on the outside then riding furiously to the line as the crowd of 112,000 let out a mighty roar.
Believe You Can was not among the favorites. Broadway’s Alibi held on for second, three quarters of a length behind the winner, while the favorite Grace Hall came third, a further two-and-a-half lengths adrift.
“Last year was kind of a tease, I was so close but not there,” Napravnik said. “This year I was determined to be the one in the winner’s circle and I had the right horse to do it.”
Napravnik, 24, has already left her mark on the male-dominated sport since getting her jockey’s license in 2005.
Two years ago, she became the first woman to win the riding title at Delaware Park. Last season took the Fair Grounds riding title and won the $1 million Louisiana Derby with Pants On Fire. Napravnik finished ninth in the 2011 Kentucky Derby with Pants On Fire - the best finish in the race for a female jockey - but missed out on a ride this year after her mount Mark Valeski was scratched.
“I think the whole female versus male issue just comes down to talent,” she said. “If you’re talented it’s not going to matter what sex you are.”
Derby looks hot
Hot pace. Muggy day. One of the deepest, talented fields in years.
A delicious stew with all the ingredients for an unpredictable Kentucky Derby.
The 20-horse field for Saturday’s race is so stacked that unbeaten Gemologist is no better than third choice on the morning line.
In other years, the colt would be the talk of the Derby. In this one, early favorites Bodemeister and Union Rags have grabbed the spotlight.
Still, some very talented colts could go off at big odds — I’ll Have Another, Take Charge Indy, whose jockey Calvin Borel has brought home long-shot winners twice in five years.
“This is the best bunch I’ve seen in a long time,” four-time Derby-winning trainer D. Wayne Lukas said. “I was out there riding next to some of them, and let me tell you, this is a hell of a group.”
Lukas will saddle one of the longest shots Optimizer. Some of the strongest contenders — Hansen, for example — have had the most success running at or near the pace. But their task is complicated by the presence of speedball Trinniberg, who could prove to be enough of a pest on the front end to compromise any horse willing to keep pace with him.
If the early fractions in the 1 1-4-mile race are fast enough, it could set up well for a deep closer like Dullahan, Daddy Nose Best or I’ll Have Another. — Agencies