JC / Railbird

Uncle Mo

Napravnik on Fire

In March 1969, Diane Crump* became the first female jockey to ever win an American stakes race, taking the Spring Fiesta Cup aboard $21 Easy Lime at the Fair Grounds. On Saturday, Anna “Rosie” Napravnik became the first female rider to win the G2 Louisiana Derby at the same historic track:

Outside the ring of people pressing to get close to her and beyond the insistent clamor of the television cameras, there arose cries of “Rosie.” And there she stood, in the middle of the turbulence, smiling somewhat sheepishly, as if not entirely comfortable with the attention and the outpouring of congratulatory emotion, horse racing’s latest, if somewhat unexpected, star …

Those who have followed the 23-year-old since her start on the Mid-Atlantic circuit in 2005 probably wouldn’t call her new-found stardom unexpected — it seemed only matter of time before people caught on to “the Napravnik magic … that makes horses run like they never have before.” New Orleans horsemen are now well acquainted with the skill and talent (not magic) possessed by the rising jockey, apparent from early in the meet:

… with the young woman from the East Coast becoming the go-to rider for a group of hardened, middle-aged Louisiana trainers. Napravnik’s inroads into this group owe much to her agent, Derek Ducoing, the son of local trainer Sturges Ducoing, who has put Napravnik on eight winners at the meet through Feb. 7. Napravnik also has gone 5 for 13 for native New Orleanian Eddie Johnston and 4 for 14 for another local trainer, Andy Leggio….

“Julie Krone was one of the great female jockeys, and I think this kid is going to be one also,” Leggio said. “She just does everything right.”

If she keeps it up, Napravnik will be one of the great riders of either sex.

In addition to her Louisiana Derby win, Napravnik made history as the first female rider to top the Fair Grounds standings, with 86 wins (13 stakes). Nationally, she currently ranks #4 by earnings and #2 by wins, and plans to ride at Keeneland next month before returning to Delaware. Will a stop at Churchill come between? Trainer Kelly Breen said that Louisiana Derby winner Pants on Fire is pointing to the Kentucky Derby after his Saturday surprise.

The Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks prep schedules have been updated. Beyer speed figures of 94 for Pants on Fire, 91 for Animal Kingdom in the Spiral Stakes, 90 for Twice the Appeal in the Sunland Derby.

At Oaklawn yesterday, Arienza made it 2-for-2 and now points to the Fantasy. “It may be a little ambitious trying to come back in two weeks,” said trainer Danny Peitz, “but we certainly don’t want to rule that out.” Azeri’s daughter by Giant’s Causeway got the final eighth of the one-mile allowance in a superb :12.19, confidently rebuffing runner-up Hidatsa in the stretch.

And at Palm Meadows, Uncle Mo breezed four furlongs in :49.45, taking dirt as part of his training. (Well, if he’s not going to get that experience in racing …)

*Crump was also the first woman to ride in the Kentucky Derby, finishing fifteenth on Fathom in 1970. Owned by Louisville whiskey baron W.L. Lyons Brown, Fathom was one of six field horses entered in that year’s Derby, and not a well-regarded contender, with or without a female jockey. “If she were riding a good horse, I wouldn’t mind betting on her,” a handicapper told the New York Times. “But her horse isn’t much good.”

Hope Mo Loses?

Steve Haskin on the two-prep campaign era for Kentucky Derby prospects and the importance of at least one “gut check” before the big race:

Here is the kicker: of the four horses who have won the Derby off only two starts, three of them – Street Sense, Mine That Bird, and Super Saver — had at least one gut check, where they engaged in a head-to-head stretch battle. The only one who didn’t was Big Brown, who was, well, Big Brown, and who faced relatively weak fields in the Florida Derby and Kentucky Derby.

The Wood is Uncle Mo’s only chance to get dirty before May, and aside from Jaycito and Toby’s Corner, not many seem interested in facing the champion. A pity. If he were to lose, it might not be such a bad thing, writes Paul Moran:

If all this comes together, the month between the Wood and Derby will be an exciting time in New York…. An untimely defeat on April 9, though it may stun his supporters and connections and cool the fervor, may well serve Uncle Mo. Secretariat was upset by stablemate Angle Light in the Wood, leaving trainer Lucien Lauren if not the entire racing world dazed and speechless. Remember what happened after that?

Thursday Notes

Jaycito returned to the track this morning for the first time since his runner-up effort in the San Felipe last Saturday. He’ll be getting blinkers on again in the Santa Anita Derby, reports Steve Haskin, “after losing his focus a bit while apparently bored being at the back of the pack …” The San Felipe was the first career start the colt, my PDI #2 #4, made without blinkers. “I love the way he took dirt and settled well off the pace,” said trainer Bob Baffert replying to an emailed inquiry about Jaycito. “He will improve more next time.”

Dick Jerardi defuses angst about Uncle Mo’s so-so Timely Writer speed figure (DRF+): “It only went down that way because of the way the race was run, something that does happen in Beyer World, but not all that often.” [TT reports a Ragozin number of 4 for Uncle Mo, adjusted for the slow pace.]

Colin’s Ghost wonders whether a Triple Crown winner will appear again.

A potential rivalry? “Whether Premier Pegasus will be the one to push Uncle Mo and give us an incredible rivalry is open to debate,” writes Bob Ehalt. “Maybe he’s another Sunday Silence, or maybe he’s another Buzzards Bay.”

Churchill Downs could install the Trakus system in time for the spring meet, putting an end to the occasional Kentucky Derby chart error.

Mo Proof, Please

Early Kentucky Derby fave Uncle Mo has been branded by owner Mike Repole as a Great One, and in that, at this stage in the colt’s career, he’s less reminiscent of Seattle Slew — a Repole-favored comparison — than he is of Man o’ War, the most lauded horse of the early 20th century, still counted among the top three of all-time by most racing historians.

Much as the superlatives have been heaped on Mo, anointed this year’s Triple Crown hope, so the praise was on Man o’ War. The excitement for the Fair Play colt built early during his 2-year-old campaign, and was barely slowed by his famous half-length loss to Upset in the 1919 Sanford Stakes. At the end of the season, in which he went 9-for-10, often carrying a highweight of 130 pounds, the colt was deemed the greatest juvenile to have ever appeared in in the country. After Man o’ War won the 1920 Preakness Stakes, in his first start of the year, the argument began in earnest over whether he was greatest American thoroughbred ever to run, and it became something of a challenge to find starters willing to face the 3-year-old star. In his 10 starts following the Preakness, he never raced against more than three others. In several, such as the Lawrence Realization Stakes in which he set a world record of 2:40 4/5 for 1 5/8 miles, he raced against only one other.

Man o’ War, by this time frequently called “the horse of the century,” handily defeated 1919 Triple Crown winner Sir Barton in his final start, the 1920 Kenilworth Park Gold Cup, but few of his competitors from that year have names still familiar. In a bit of historical who’d-he-beat, the sparse fields of Man o’ War’s sophomore season have become reason to question his standing.

In his favor, though, Man o’ War never shirked. He was pointed to the top stakes of his time — among his wins are the Belmont Stakes, Travers Stakes, and Jockey Club Gold Cup — and he could only run against those with connections brave enough to face him. He was put into conditions to be tested. To say he was great wasn’t a mere opinion — it was a truth, as defined by what he consistently accomplished at the highest level.

With luck, Mo has many races ahead. He’s undeniably talented and fast, and his name, before long, may join the greats his record and speed so far recall. But there’s a difference between Uncle Mo and Man o’ War, between him and so many others cherished as great ones, and it’s not only his owner’s fervent, public dream for the colt’s near future, accepted by so many:

Uncle Mo may, indeed, be the next Seattle Slew and live up to the lofty expectations placed on him. The words Triple Crown were uttered here all afternoon by rival trainers, pedigree experts and breeding farm owners who are tracking the Uncle Mo camp as if they were coaches sizing up a basketball recruit. Every farm in central Kentucky wants to be the one to land the breeding deal for the first Triple Crown champion since Affirmed in 1978.

I think the great ones know they’re great,” said Repole after Uncle Mo won the first running of the ungraded one-mile Timely Writer at Gulfstream. The great ones also prove their greatness on track, and not in races written for them.

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