Jockey Rosie Napravnik sponges off Shanghai Bobby after winning the Breeders'… (Mark J. Terrill / Associated…)
Horse racing is in need of a new star, and she emerged Saturday, wearing a bright yellow one on the front of her silks.
Rosie Napravnik, a red-haired 24-year-old from New Jersey, is poised to make a strong challenge as the Kentucky Derby's first winning female jockey after directing Shanghai Bobby to a stirring Breeders' Cup Juvenile victory at Santa Anita.
She is the second winning female jockey in Breeders' Cup history. Julie Krone rode Halfbridled to a 2003 Juvenile Fillies victory.
"What I proved to myself was I worked hard to get to this stage of my career, and now as long as you have the horse under you, you can get the job done," Napravnik said.
Although the $2-million Juvenile has produced only one Derby winner since its 1984 debut — Street Sense in 2006 — Napravnik and trainer Todd Pletcher's colt flashed the kind of heart it takes to win come early May.
Shanghai Bobby surged with front-running Title Contender through blistering fractions of 22.28 seconds at the quarter-mile pole, and 45.55 at the half.
Amid great anticipation that the exertion would cause the favorite to fade, Shanghai Bobby watched his multi-length lead around the three-quarter pole vanish because of a charging He's Had Enough.
Instead of displaying any anxiety at being swarmed in the high-magnitude event, Napravnik relied on the knowledge she has gained in guiding Shanghai Bobby to five wins in five races.
She recalled a similar race when the horse became "really unfocused, looking at the stands," acting "a little lost."
"I knew once Bobby saw [He's Had Enough], he'd break like no other, that it was just a matter of time," Napravnik said. "He knew he was back in the heat of the battle … the best horse I've ever ridden. He wants to win the race."
Shanghai Bobby's second surge gave the favorite the victory by a head.
Runner-up trainer Doug O'Neill, whose I'll Have Another won the Derby and Preakness this year, called Napravnik a "Grade I rider. Rosie's brilliant. Even though it appeared she had trouble, her horse didn't stop."
Krone, a day after visiting with Napravnik and telling her on Facebook "I'm getting lonely here," said the jockey's ride was "fabulous."
"She's amazing, young, refreshing and so thoughtful," Krone said. "She understands the continuity of the race, how much horse is under her. She puts a lot of emotion and thinking into this. She's the whole package."
Napravnik rode Believe You Can to this year's Kentucky Oaks victory and was aboard Pants on Fire in a ninth-place showing in the 2011 Derby. She ranks eighth in the nation in purse money this year.
Racing experts said that with Napravnik's stock rising, it's not a given she'll be back on Shanghai Bobby if a stronger entry emerges by Derby day.
"Todd's never asked me to take her off [Shanghai Bobby], and it sounds like she likes the horse," owner Jack Wolf said.
To that, Napravnik cracked: "Oh, you didn't get the bill."