The Breeders' Cup Forum: 'You Have to Work Even More' - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report

The Breeders’ Cup Forum: ‘You Have to Work Even More’

Rosie Napravnik

Rosie Napravnik made a daring career move in 2012, shifting her tack to New York in the springtime instead of returning to Delaware Park, where she'd ridden the previous two years, winning the riding title in 2010 (she was injured midway through the 2011 Delaware meet). The move paid off. The 24-year-old New Jersey native made major inroads with big stables and wound up the eighth leading rider in the U.S. by money won.  Her year-end mount earnings of $12,451,713 set an all-time record for a female rider and nearly doubled her previous year's earnings of $6,494,492. The previous record for a female rider was set by Hall of Famer Julie Krone in 1992, when her mounts earned $9,216,622.

Napravnik's victories included the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks with Believe You Can for trainer Larry Jones and owner Brereton C. Jones and the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile for trainer Todd Pletcher and owners Starlight Racing and partners in Coolmore.

Congratulations on a breakthrough 2012, your eighth year as a professional jockey. You rode the winner of the Kentucky Oaks and Breeders' Cup Juvenile and cracked the top 10 nationally by money won.  Are you a goal-oriented person and, if so, are these the kinds of goals you set for yourself?
Honestly I'm not goal oriented. I don't have specific races that I want to win. My goal as a whole is basically to just be able to ride competitively at the top level and have opportunities on top-class horses like Shanghai Bobby and Believe You Can.  My goal is to always be moving forward, getting better, and making more connections.

But I really would love to win a Triple Crown race.

Did you consider going to Gulfstream Park this winter instead of Fair Grounds, where you were leading rider the last two years?
When I went to New York in the spring, I left my options open and said I would make a decision after seeing where my business was. I didn't have the overall business I wanted to go into Gulfstream Park, so I think this was the best decision. My husband (Joe Sharp, assistant trainer to Mike Maker) and I love New Orleans. We own a house here. It's like home in a lot of ways, so it wasn't hard to come here.

Your mount earnings nearly doubled from 2011 to 2012, even though you won fewer races (193 from 1,200 mounts in 2012 vs. 198 from 875 in 2011, which was interrupted by injury). Do you make a mental adjustment when you go into a tougher circuit and don't win at the same rate, even though the earnings suggest you're having a much better year?
I had to definitely adjust to it mentally. A lot can get you down when you move into a tougher circuit. New York is the toughest jockey colony in the country. You do have to mentally accept the fact you won't win as many races, but you're working toward something that's bigger. Winning is what it's all about, so if you're not winning as many races, it's hard to say you're doing better. Nearly doubling earnings was huge, but for me it's more about the horses I've been able to ride.

It seems like the higher up you get in this industry, the harder you have to work. People say if you come off a great meet or riding title, that things get easier and you have all this business. It's just the opposite; it's so much harder. Coming off the Kentucky Oaks win, it became more and more demanding, and you have to work even more.

You grew up in a riding family, but at what point did you say,  “I want to become a professional jockey?”
I think I was about seven years old. I'd been competing in shows and events since I was about 3 or 4. I was introduced to the idea of racing through my sister (Jazz), who had done it in Pony Club at 5. We had team chases, where you race in pairs and compete. Since I was 7, I began working toward that goal, even though I didn't have real flat racing exposure until I was about 16.

One thing I keep hearing is how competitive you are. Where does that come from?
I've been in competitions since I was very young. I have two older siblings. My brother (Colt) is two years older and is like my best friend in the whole world. I was always competitive with him, hanging out with his friends, all of them boys. I always wanted to be able to do what they could do. I felt like I could be just as good as everyone else, even if I was smaller, or a girl.

My first gallop job, I rode five horses a day, was mucking stalls, carrying buckets. I was so tired at the end of the day but felt the need to keep up with everybody else, even though I was 10 years younger than everybody else, tiny, and not as strong. I didn't ever want to give myself an excuse to accept being less.

So you played other sports growing up?
I played tons of sports. The one sport I played co-ed was soccer. I loved playing soccer, and it was always on a co-ed team. When I got into school, I didn't want to play on an all-girl team. I did ice skating, gymnastics, and soccer, but at 12 I made a choice to do just riding. It was a no brainer.

When you got started, did you study certain jockeys and their riding styles?
Not really. I didn't single anybody out and try to copy them. I didn't ask a lot of questions when I had the bug (apprentice allowance) and was starting out. I was quiet and soaked everything like a sponge. I paid attention to all the different jockeys, what their strengths were – jockeys all have different strengths. I'd try to keep everything in mind to be the best at each aspect of riding.

If riding is part instinct, part physical ability, and part strategy – studying the past performances and knowing how a race sets up  – where do you think your strength is?
In recent years, coming to higher levels of racing, I really focus a lot on studying the Form and race replays, then strategizing and knowing where everyone should be at a certain time, making everything more predictable so I can get the trip I want. That's one of the most important things you can do as a rider, especially when you're at the top level like New York.

Everyone is there for the same reason: they are talented. You have to get an advantage. I've found it's important to really study the Form, study the replays to a more detailed extent. I feel I've become good at doing that.

How important are trainer instructions?
I find that I ride better without instructions. I want to please everybody so I have their instructions in the back of my mind, but sometimes that means you aren't doing what your instincts tell you to do. The best people to ride for are the ones that have the confidence in you that they don't give a lot of instructions. They'll give you certain observations or tell you about a horse's characteristics.

You've said there are advantages to being a female rider in this business, in terms of publicity and more attention. Are you interested in taking advantage of that added publicity to seek endorsement opportunities?
Absolutely.  I don't feel like I want to have my face plastered over everything, that's not the reason I would go after endorsements. It's really all about where it will get me in the business. I don't have a second career planned out, and most women riders don't ride as long as men do, so it's financial. I'm focused on looking for opportunities that are going to help me in my career.

What are the disadvantages to being a female rider?
In the relationship from owner to trainer to jockey to horse, the jockeys become the easiest scapegoat. Being a female makes you an even easier scapegoat. That's really the only thing I see as a disadvantage. It's harder to become established when you're first starting out because you are expected to fail, or be weaker or be a step behind. But really, once I became established, it's worked more to my advantage than disadvantage.

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