When jockey Anna Rose (Rosie) Napravnik, then 17, got her first professional mount, for a race at Pimlico in June 2005, her horse's veteran trainer, Dick Small, insisted she be listed in the race program as "A.R. Napravnik," so that her gender wouldn't become too widely known and thus impede her career. So while Napravnik is thrilled that on Saturday she will become the sixth female jockey to ride in the Kentucky Derby (no woman rider has won it), she understands the bigger picture. "Riding in the Derby is not my dream come true," says Napravnik, a native of New Jersey who is now 23. "It's part of making my overall dream come true."
Napravnik, who now goes strictly by Rosie and will ride Louisiana Derby winner Pants On Fire at Churchill Downs, is already among the most successful female riders in history, with more than 1,100 career wins for some $29 million in purses in just six years. (The alltime leader is Julie Krone, with 3,704 wins and more than $90 million in purses; she rode in two Derbies and remains the only woman to win a Triple Crown race, the 1993 Belmont Stakes on Colonial Affair.)
But even as she chases history, Napravnik remains aware of the reality for women in racing. "The first generation of female riders had to go through a lot more than I did," says Napravnik. "But we still fight a battle. A lot of young female riders are just girls who love horses, but they just don't have the strength and toughness, and they're not cut out to be jockeys. You've got to deliver the goods to get over that hump."
Napravnik is a muscular 5'1½", 111 pounds, with the taut upper body common to great riders. She won the riding title at Fair Grounds Race Course in the winter, with 110 wins, and Pants On Fire will not be a throwaway long shot in the Derby. A win would be getting over a major hump.