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From the Archives: Blazing Saddle

Anna Napravnik, who will race in this year’s Kentucky Derby, was the winningest female jockey in the nation at just 18. Read our 2006 profile of her.

The 18-year-old redhead is twirling her silver giddy up bracelet and tapping French-manicured nails against a table at a Starbucks near Laurel Park racetrack.

With her pink Razr phone, she looks like a typical teenager, but this 107-pound young woman is Anna Napravnik, the country’s winningest female jockey. She’s ranked fifth among all jockeys in wins. Her mounts have won more than $3.5 million this year, and 10 percent of that goes to her.

Maryland is known for producing young jockeys: Chris McCarron, Kent Desormeaux, and Edgar Prado started just like her—at Laurel and Pimlico. Anna won the opening race on Preakness Day this year in front of a 100,000-plus crowd and against the world’s top jockeys.

Often called Rosie—for her middle name and her red hair—Anna is modest about her accomplishments. “She’s understated and underimpressed with her own talent,” says Ferris Allen, one of Maryland’s top trainers.

“I don’t like to idolize people,” Anna says, admitting that until she became a jockey, names like Gary Stevens and Jerry Bailey didn’t ring a bell. She shuns comparison to the greatest female jockey of all time: “I don’t want to be the next Julie Krone. I want to be the first Anna Napravnik.”

A horsewoman born and bred—mom’s a trainer; dad’s a farrier—Napravnik has been riding since she could walk. “I always knew I wanted to be a jockey,” she says.

Anna grew up in New Jersey, then moved at the beginning of high school to Vermont with her mother when her parents divorced. She hated Vermont, so she spent summers with her older sister, a horse trainer, in Pennsylvania and Maryland before dropping out of high school and moving to Maryland full-time. A straight-A student when she left school, Anna recently passed the test to get her GED, or graduate equivalency diploma.

Anna started hot-walking and exercising thoroughbreds—and mucking stalls in exchange for the chance to ride—when she was 13. At 17, she got her first mount at Pimlico. She won.

Allen calls her “a joy” to watch. “She makes fewer mistakes, rides smarter races, and understands her horses better than top jockeys like Chris McCarron or Edgar Prado did when they were apprentices,” he says.

Trainers value her grit and determination. She once fell during a race and was taken away by ambulance, only to ride—and place—two races later. She shows a more feminine side at times, too. “She still cries when she gets a bad haircut,” says Allen. And, he adds, “she has the best-kept fingernails on the track.”

Her winnings have allowed her to buy a house in Glen Burnie and drive a Jeep Grand Cherokee. She says she mostly saves her money except for one indulgence: weekly massages. “Without those, I wouldn’t be able to walk.”

Aside from the occasional jogging in sweats to lose a pound or two before a race, Anna stays at the required weight simply through eating in moderation and the exercise of riding.

On days off, which are few, she loves spending time with her dog, Leo, a three-year-old pit bull mix, and going to the movies with her boyfriend, whom she met working at the track.

Anna has caught the imagination of the racing public. All it takes for a horse to become a favorite is to see that she is riding it.

Her whole family—her dad and brother live in New Jersey—cheered her on when she rode at this year’s Preakness. It wouldn’t surprise anyone at the tracks to see Anna riding on Preakness Day next year—not in just the first race but the Preakness itself.

This article appears in the October 2006 issue of The Washingtonian.

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