USA: Napravnik makes Oaks history aboard Believe You Can
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By Nicholas Godfrey in Louisville
Kentucky Oaks (Grade 1) 1m1f, dirt, 3yo fillies
ROSIE NAPRAVNIK made history on Friday when she became the first female to ride the Kentucky Oaks winner as Believe You Can got the better of Broadway’s Alibi in a long stretch drive in front of a crowd of 112,552, the second-biggest ever seen.
Believe You Can was sent off just short of a 14-1 chance for the 138th running of the historic fillies’ Classic, in which she was a second winner for popular trainer Larry Jones after Proud Spell’s success in 2008.
Both fillies represented the former Kentucky governor Brereton C Jones, a longstanding patron of the trainer but no relation.
“It’s unbelievable,” said an emotional Napravnik, landing her first Grade 1 contest. “I cannot tell you what it feels like to have your dreams coming true. I’m just so happy and so grateful to be here.
“I cried a little bit but I don’t think I’m done crying yet.”She’s an unbelievable filly,” added the rider, who is 24. “She’s all talent, all heart, and she showed that today.”
The $1 millionevent was delayed 45 minutes amid concerns over a forecast thunderstorm that never materialised.
Heavy rain did hit the track, however, and an official announcement suggested patrons of the notorious infield sought cover.
When the race finally did take place, the first two finishers were in the front rank throughout as doubtful stayer Broadway’s Alibi was immediately sent to the lead by John Velazquez.
The Todd Pletcher-trained filly has won herlast four starts by a cumulative total of 32 lengths, making all the running on every occasion, but had never before raced around two turns.
Fair Grounds Oaks winner Believe You Can, a homebred daughter of Proud Citizen, sat just off Broadway’s Alibi and duly emerged as the only serious challenger, engaging the leader as they left the far turn.
The pair raced as a team until midstretch before Believe You Can drew away under pressure to score by three-quarters of a length.The favourite Grace Hall stayed on for third without ever looking a threat a further two and a half lengths back.
“She is just an excellent filly and the horse she was running against is a tough filly,” said Napravnik,wearing a face-wide grin. “It was pretty cool to look back and see Johnny Velazquez behind’me!”
New Jersey native Napravnik had only narrowly missed winning last year’s Oaks when outsider’St John’s River was a fast-closing second to Plum Pretty.
“That was kind of a tease,” said Napravnik. “I was so close but not there and this year I was determined to be the one in the winner’s circle and I had the right horse to do it.
“There’s a lot of people who are a big part of’me getting to this race and I just can’t thank everybody enough.”
Believe You Can, who has now won six of her nine career starts, stopped the clock in 1m49.50s.Her trainer Larry Jones, as always wearing a wide stetson in post-race interviews, has acted as heavyweight exercise rider at Churchill Downs in the run-up to the race.
“She gave us that ‘wow’ factor when sheworked the other day,” he said. “We just got another ‘wow’ this afternoon.”
Jones temporarily retired a couple of seasons ago in the aftermath of losing star filly Eight Belles when she fatally broke down after the wire when finishing second in the 2008 Kentucky Derby.
“We are very proud,” he added. “We have such respect for the Oaks and the Derby as Kentucky people. To us, these are the greatest two races in the world.”Rosie also rode her so well. She got a great position at the first turn and had her relaxed down the backstretch.”
View the original article at the Racing Post