Rosie Napravnik, who’ll be riding Mylute in the Preakness on Saturday, was reflecting fondly Friday on her early days as a young rider galloping at Pimlico for trainers Dickie Small and Holly Robinson.
“I used to gallop out of that barn right there, which is now a stakes barn,’’ Napravnik said, motioning toward a barn where Small’s horses were based. I have so many great memories.
“This is the first racetrack I ever galloped on, and I remember coming into the barn area and meeting Holly Robinson, and she told me, knowing that I wanted to be a jockey, she shook my hand and she said: ‘Nice to meet you. I hate girls, and I hate bug riders.,’’’ Napravnik said. “And you know, it feels just like yesterday that I was galloping for Dickie here. He had such a great group of riders that I learned from and from him and pick up on all the babies in April when they started.’’
“That’s exactly what I said to her, too,’’ Robinson said. “She had to earn it from me, and she did, too. When she got through with Dickie in the morning, she’d gallop for me, then she’d go off to school. And she went to night school, too. She had an unbelievable schedule.’’
Napravnik, who lived for a year and a half with the Robinson family at Holly’s farm in Sparks, Md., was a junior at Hereford High School during the 2004-2005 school year.
On June 9, 2005, Napravnik, then a 17-year-old apprentice, got a leg up from Small on Ringofdiamonds for her first career mount. Napravnik won.
“That race was kind of funny to me, because I absolutely had no idea what I was doing,’’ Napravnik said. “I didn’t know how to read a racing form, and I didn’t know anything about placing a horse in a race on anything like that. Somehow I made it to the front from the 1-hole going a mile and a sixteenth. I still don’t know how it happened.’’
She’s still winning.
Robinson recalled calling Napravnik after she won five races on a card at Pimilco. Instead of having plans to celebrate, Napravnik was studying for the GED, Robinson said.
Napravnik rode a horse for Robinson on the Black-Eyed Susan Day card Friday at Pimlico. The jockey got the mount by chance, when her scheduled mount in that race in the Xpressbet Jockey Challenge was scratched.
“That’s just really sweet to ride for her on a big day like this,’’ Napravnik said Friday morning. “And I’m going to try to get over to see Dickie if I can after the races today. I wish he could be here, but I know he’s not feeling real great right now, but hopefully we can make him feel better.’’
A 25-year-old New Jersey native, Napravnik is established as one of the best jockeys in America. She has won riding titles at all the Maryland tracks, Delaware Park and the Fair Grounds. In 2012, she won the Kentucky Oaks on Believe You Can, and last fall, she won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile on Shanghai Bobby.
She’ll have a slew of supporters at Pimlico on Saturday when she rides Mylute in the Preakness.
“I had a ton of people at the Derby,’’ Napravnik said. “We’ve got probably a lot more friends that will be maybe in the standing-room only, and people who work on the backside. I have so many people that I know that work here. I know I’ve got a lot of people here cheering me on, and it makes me feel great.’’
If Mylute wins, Napravnik would become the first female jockey to win the Preakness.
“I’m glad to be here,’’ she said. “I’m not trying to do this because I’m a girl. I’m not trying to win the race because I’m a female jockey. I just want to win the race.’’
“Very proud, very proud,’’ Robinson said. “If she doesn’t do it this year, she’ll do it next year. That’s how confident I am.’’