ARCADIA, Ca. – One girl brought the drama with the sheer force of her will, sticking her bay face with that paint strip of a blaze in front at the head of lane and showing her challengers in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Distaff what a season’s worth of progressive brilliance looks like.
The other girl, the one who helped foster the above’s ability, then stole the show for most stunning performance on the day when she turned to her mother on national television and told the Thoroughbred racing community that outing might have been the last they would see of her own standard-setting skills.
There never has been a post-race scene quite like one that exploded before the crowd of 37,205 after Untapable’s 1 1/4-length triumph over Don’t Tell Sophia in the Distaff. Moments after guiding the 3-year-old filly to her most significant triumph yet, jockey Rosie Napravnik ignited shock waves that could rock the neighboring San Gabriel Mountains when she announced she would be retiring from race riding effective Sunday as she and her husband, trainer Joe Sharp, are expecting their first child.
Napravnik said she was about seven weeks pregnant and that while her initial plan was to wait until after this weekend to break the news “this filly has just been so special to me…I couldn’t resist because they asked me how much it meant to me.”
At the age of 26, the native of New Jersey has already carved out a niche in racing history. She surpassed Hall of Famer Julie Krone’s total wins and earnings record in a single season for a woman in 2012, is the only female jockey to ride in all three Triple Crown races and is a two-time winner of the Kentucky Oaks, including this year aboard Untapable.
“I’ve been planning the retirement since I found out I was pregnant,” said Napravnik, who just won her second consecutive Keeneland Fall Meet title. “My husband Joe…his career is brand new and thriving so it’s kind of good timing. He’s going to step out of the limelight and I’m going to step out.”
Sharp, a former assistant to Mike Maker, went out on his own this summer and has already saddled nine winners from 19 starters.
Napravnik first decided she wanted to be a jockey at age 7 after riding in her first pony race. At 16, she took out a license with the National Steeplechase Association and in 2005, obtained her jockey’s license, winning 71 races.
In 2012, the year she won her first Kentucky Oaks aboard Believe You Can, Napravnik also joined Krone as the only female riders to win a Breeders’ Cup race when she piloted Shanghai Bobby to victory in the Juvenile.
Jockeys are notorious for their repeated comebacks: Exhibit ‘A’ being Hall of Famer Gary Stevens returning from a 7-year retirement last year and riding this weekend after having knee replacement surgery this season.
Napravnik is known to spend her down time away from race riding taking her own pleasure horses over fences. She didn’t totally close the door on one day returning to the jocks room but called the hiatus “indefinite”.
“I’m not thinking of a comeback in ten months, but I can’t promise to stay off a horse forever,” she said.
If indeed Napravnik’s four Breeders’ Cup mounts Saturday are her final career send off, they will have to do something remarkable to top the lasting feeling Untapable instilled in the final furlong.
The Winchell Thoroughbreds homebred had been near perfect coming into the Distaff, winning all five starts against her fellow sophomore female runners this year with her only loss in six prior 2014 outings being a fifth-place run against males in the Grade I Haskell Invitational.
Still, the daughter of leading sire Tapit had run the worst race of her 11-race career at Santa Anita Park last year when she was eighth in the Juvenile Fillies, and the 1 1/8-miles Distaff presented her a new challenge as she was facing older fillies and mares for the first time. Though the Steve Asmussen-trainee was carried three-wide around the first turn, the race favorite traveled a clear path through fractions of 22.93 and 46.73 and had Iotapa and pacesetter Tiz Midnight hers for the taking when she advanced wide around the final turn.
“I don’t think anything she did this year was easy,” Asmussen said. “It’s just on her ability. She was obviously spot-on today after a very long year. The confidence in her ability is immeasurable.”
Napravnik said she had “so much horse” off the second turn, and got the response she needed to hold off Grade I winner Don’t Tell Sophia, who rallied from last in the 11-horse field edging Iotapa by a nose for second.
Final time for the distance was 1:48.68 over a fast track.
In notching her fourth Grade I win of 2014, Untapable not only has a stranglehold on the Eclipse Award for champion 3-year-old filly but can merit discussion for Horse of the Year honors if the Breeders’ Cup Classic winner ends up a longshot.
“Basically, the results are what you dream about,” owner Ron Winchell said. “My plans right now are…hopefully she’ll be competitive next year in the same race.”
With Napravnik boasting 1,878 career wins heading into Saturday and more than $71 million in career earnings, all her fans and horsemen can hope is that she decides to get competitive again herself.
“Nothing makes me happier than to be able to retire and, if everything goes well tomorrow, healthy and on a great note,” Napravnik grinned.
Alicia Wincze Hughes: (859) 231-1676. Blog: horseracing.bloginky.com. Twitter: @horseracinghl.