05.05.13 8:45 AM ET
Rosie Napravnik Didn't Win the Derby, But Stole Our Hearts
She didn't make history tonight, but 25-year-old jockey Rosie Napravnik galloped into America's hearts at the 139th Kentucky Derby on Saturday. In the previous 138 Derbys, only six women have even competed in the male-dominated sport. But though Napravnik, who has collected more than 1,500 racing wins, didn't win – that honor went to a horse named Orb for his first Derby victory, ridden by Joel Rosario – she still stole the show.
The young rider is used to the recognition by now. In 2011, Napravnik came in ninth--the best finish by a female jockey in Derby history. And last year, she became the first female participant to take the trophy at Kentucky Oaks, the second-largest race of the weekend.
“A lot has happened in my career since I was here two years ago. I think I’ve been more recognized, it’s very flattering and everybody has been very positive," she told the Associated Press before the race. "Winning the Kentucky Oaks last year was probably the greatest moment of my career.”
Her horse, Mylute, holding 15-1 odds, wasn't a favorite to win, but the equestrian has garnered a reputation for fostering a close connection with the animals. She told CNN, "He's definitely the type of horse that you want to have in a race like this."
Napravnik has continued to face an underlying sexism in the sport. As she told 60 Minutes, she's been instructed to, "'Go home and have a baby, go home and stay in the kitchen.'" But she's also noted that being female in the industry has helped her stand out and make a name for herself.
Saturday's Derby triumph realized a goal that, according to her mother, she'd first announced at just seven years old, after watching an old VHS of the Triple Crown.
She never detached from that lofty aspiration, and before the race, Napravnik was confident. “Hopefully, we can make history,” she told the AP.