When Believe You Can crossed the wire to win the 2012 Kentucky Oaks, it catapulted her straight to the zenith of three-year-old fillies in the nation. It doesn’t get much bigger. As a great fan of the equine stars that grace our sport, I am generally more excited about the horse than the connections, but in the case of the Oaks, I could not help but to immediately feel joy for the humans behind the big win, even more so than the victorious filly.
For the jockey, Rosie Napravnik, the cause for celebration was obvious. No female jockey had ever won the Kentucky Oaks. Think about what that means for a moment. At 24 years old, Napravnik has already etched her name among the greatest female jockeys of all-time. Her climb up the ranks of top riders in the nation has been as rapid as it has been steady. Last year she won the Louisiana Derby, before just missing in the Oaks. Now she has her Oaks, one of America’s most prestigious races, and upon one of our brightest stages.
Despite a brief delay due to injuries, it would seem the personable young rider’s ascent to being considered not just a great female rider, but rather one of the best jockeys in the country, no matter the gender, is inevitable. Rosie took in her win with a nice mix of grace and excitement.
"It's unbelievable. I'm just so happy and so grateful to be here," said Rosie. "There's a lot of people that are a big part of me getting to this and winning this race and I just can't thank everybody enough. I cried a little but I don't think I'm done crying yet.”
Trainer, Larry Jones, one of the best horsemen I’ve ever met, turned a tough stretch of luck completely around in the time it took Believe You Can to traverse the nine furlongs of the Kentucky Oaks.
“April was a tough month. On March 31 this filly won and apparently we used up our quota of good luck that month," said Jones. "On April 1, April Fool’s Day, Mark Valeski had his lost shoe fiasco (in the Louisiana Derby). A few days later Cindy gets hurt. Then Havre de Grace gets a career-ending injury. Then Robi Jo, who looked so good at Fair Grounds and who we thought we’d have a big shot with in the Edgewood, has to be retired due to a tendon injury.”
It’s amazing how winning a race like the Kentucky Oaks can make all that other stuff fade away.
Perhaps Believe You Can’s win was a bit of cosmic karma for a good decision him and owner, and former Governor of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, Brereton Jones had made earlier in the week. By not running Mark Valeski in the Kentucky Derby it meant that neither of them, and Rosie Napravnik for that matter, would have the opportunity to win their first Derby, the Holy Grail in American racing.
It was a joint decision, and a brave decision that most trainers, and especially owners, are not willing to make in this day and age. It was also a decision that was best for their colt, who likely would have been a little overmatched on the first Saturday in May, but now looms as the horse to beat in this weekend’s Grade 2 Peter Pan Stakes.
With no chance in the Derby, Rosie and the Jones boys made the most of their opportunity in the Kentucky Oaks. Good for them.