In 2012 she became the first female rider to win the Kentucky Oaks (aboard Believe You Can) – a race she went on to win a second time two years later with Untapable. That same year she became the all-time winningest female jockey by both wins and earnings. She is also the only female jockey to ride in all three Triple Crown races and also the only woman to win multiple Breeders’ Cup races (winning in 2012 with Shanghai Bobby in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and in 2014 with Untapable in the Distaff).
"One of the most recognizable names in the modern racing world, former jockey Rosie Napravnik has a list of firsts and bests that is unrivaled by her peers."
It was in her post-race interview after guiding Untappable to victory in the Distaff that she stunned the racing world by announcing that she and her husband, Joe Sharp, were expecting their first child, and that she would be retiring from race riding upon the conclusion of that weekend’s Breeders’ Cup races.
Riding in Different Circles
While, at 29-years-old, Napravnik may not be riding races these days, the New Jersey native is still heavily involved with Thoroughbreds, both on and off the racetrack. After announcing her retirement, Napravnik settled into several new roles, including as the assistant trainer for her husband’s rapidly expanding racing stable, which rotates between Kentucky and Louisiana throughout the year, and as mom to their three kids, sons Tucker (1) and Carson (2), and step-daughter Aiyana (13).
This year Napravnik was once again on the Derby Trail, but in an entirely different capacity. Serving as the assistant trainer for Sharp, who has about 70 horses in training for clients, Napravnik was the regular morning rider for one of Sharp’s pupils, Girvin. While the colt finished thirteenth in the Kentucky Derby, he stamped himself as a legitimate Breeders’ Cup contender with a hard-fought victory in the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park.
“It’s been fun to do this together,” said Napravnik.
Outside of riding for work, Napravnik has also been getting a lot more saddle time in for fun since retiring from riding races. Partnering with her retired racehorse-turned-eventer Sugar (who raced as Old Ironsides), who she rode to several wins at the claiming level on the racetrack early in her career, Napravnik has enjoyed getting re-acquainted with her equestrian roots, regularly competing at the Kentucky Horse Park and elsewhere in eventing and jumping competitions. She has also been generous with her time, partnering with local charities specializing in retired racehorse adoption and retraining, including Old Friends, New Vocations, Remember Me Rescue, the Maker’s Mark Secretariat Center and the Retired Racehorse Project.
"She has also been generous with her time, partnering with local charities specializing in retired racehorse adoption and retraining..."
“I’m finally getting to compete on Sugar, which I never had much time to do when I was riding races, and I’m really loving it,” said Napravnik, who grew up on her family’s boarding and training farm and competed in eventing and pony races. “Joe even competed in the New Vocations show at the Kentucky Horse Park last month with Sugar! Joe used to ride races and is literally the best rider I’ve ever seen, but he’d never jumped except for a few times on Sugar to practice before the show, and the pair did really well!”
This month, Napravnik will be competing in the $100,000 Thoroughbred Makeover at the Kentucky Horse Park (October 5-8). Put on by the Retired Racehorse Project, the event draws hundreds of trainers from around the U. S. and Canada, each of which competes on a retired racehorse with eight months or less of post-race retraining. Napravnik’s mount, Aztec Brave, holds special meaning to both her husband and her, as he was one of the first horses Sharp trained, and the horse’s success helped to put him on the map as a trainer.
“Joe claimed Aztec for Brad Grady, in the first few months he was out on his own as a trainer and Aztec won three stakes for us,” said Napravnik. “He retired last June and, because his owner knew he was one of Joe’s favorites, he gave him to us.”
Their Little Piece of Heaven
While she has literally sat atop thousands of Thoroughbreds in her equestrian and racing career, Aztec is a first for Napravnik in the retraining realm.
“I was in the middle of my [race] riding career when Sugar retired, so I sent him to my mom and didn’t do his initial retraining. Aztec is the first one I’m retraining from scratch,” she said.
With trainers allowed to compete in up to two disciplines with their horses at the Thoroughbred Makeover, Napravnik has chosen to stick with what she knows and has entered him in the eventing competition, which will require each horse and rider combination to perform a dressage test, complete a cross country course, and navigate a series of stadium jumps.
“He’s the kind of horse that has a bit of a chip on his shoulder, so this is a good fit for him because you need a horse with a bit of versatility and confidence,” said Napravnik. “Since we’re not planning on selling him like some of the other competitors are with their horses, if I mess up his training, I’ll just fix it. It’s been a great learning experience, and it’s also given me some confidence in my training abilities.”
Napravnik hopes to continue to put those training abilities to practice. “I’d like to do more of this in the future, retraining and hopefully selling them as riding and show horses,” she said. “Thoroughbreds have given me nearly everything I have, so I try to support the industry, and especially the horses, in as many ways as I can.”
“I’d like to do more of this in the future, retraining and hopefully selling them as riding and show horses,” she said. “Thoroughbreds have given me nearly everything I have, so I try to support the industry, and especially the horses, in as many ways as I can.”
When not competing, Aztec, Sugar and the rest of their horses live at the couple’s newly acquired farm in Simpsonville, Kentucky. Napravnik says the moment she and Sharp saw the property, they knew it was where they would someday reside.
“We knew we wanted to have a farm someday, we just didn’t know where. It was our anniversary and we didn’t really have anything to do, so we went window-shopping for farms. We saw this property and knew it was our future farm…we just didn’t know it would be eight months in the future,” said Napravnik. “Central Kentucky is just the best place to be. It has the racing and breeding, and also all of the showing, foxhunting and endless equestrian opportunities. And our farm… with its iron gates and old stone pillars - every time we pull into our driveway it’s like ‘pinch me – I still can’t believe this is real.’ It’s the absolute perfect place for us to raise our family and run our business.”
If you’d like to watch Rosie Napravnik and more than 400 other trainers compete on their recently retired racehorses, go to www.retiredracehorseproject.com for the full schedule of events.•