DERBY NOTES: Napravnik makes Kentucky Derby history
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) – Rosie Napravnik ended up making history in the Kentucky Derby.
She just didn’t make the winner’s circle.
The 23-year-old jockey posted the highest finish by a female rider when she guided Pants On Fire to ninth in Saturday’s Run for the Roses.
The effort topped 11th-place finishes by Patricia Cooksey in 1984 aboard So Vague and Hall of Famer Julie Krone in 1995 atop Suave Prospect.
Pants on Fire stayed with the leaders in the 19-horse field until the stretch, then held tough late.
“I couldn’t have wished for a better trip,” Napravnik said.
Napravnik had perhaps the best shot to become the first women jockey to capture the Derby with Pants on Fire, who burst onto the scene after taking the Louisiana Derby in March.
The victory was part of a breakout spring for Napravnik, who won the riding title at the Fair Grounds. Bettors flocked to her horse in the Derby, making Pants On Fire the 8-1 second choice.
Though her colt couldn’t chase down eventual winner Animal Kingdom, Napravnik was encouraged.
“I think the best feeling was when I just kind of tapped him … and I angled outside and I had some left and I was like, ‘Oh boy, I wonder where we’re going from here,”‘ she said.
Meantime, trainer Kathy Ritvo’s first Derby went according to plan. Except, well, for the last part.
Ritvo’s promising colt Mucho Macho Man ended up third when his bid to catch Animal Kingdom deep in the stretch fell short. It equaled the second best finish by a female trainer in the Derby.
Ritvo nearly died from heart disease three years ago before receiving a lifesaving transplant. Coming in third in the biggest race of her lengthy training career is hardly a bad thing.
“He was fabulous today,” Ritvo said. “It went just the way we thought it would. He gave it his all. He finished up well.”
Just not well enough to give Ritvo’s compelling journey a storybook finish. Mucho Macho Man went off at 9-1 behind favorite Dialed In.
Jockey Rajiv Maragh put his horse in prime position and Mucho Macho Man had Animal Kingdom in his sights in the middle of the stretch. There just wasn’t enough kick to catch the winner.
“At every point in the race that I needed something from him, he gave it to me,” said Maragh, who replaced Eibar Coa as the horse’s rider after Coa was injured in a fall this winter. “He was just third. He ran 110 percent.”
Ritvo doesn’t see the third-place showing as the end of the story.
“He’s only going to get better,” she said. “He’s only a June 15 foal. He’ll come back hopefully in a couple weeks (in the Preakness).”
Mucho Macho Man burst onto the Derby trail with a resounding victory in the Risen Star Stakes. He followed it up with a game effort in the Louisiana Derby, finishing third despite losing a shoe early in the race.
His rise thrust the spotlight onto Ritvo. She’s spent two decades in the game training alongside husband Tim but struggled for years with a degenerative heart disease that killed older brother Louis 15 years ago.
She underwent a 17-hour transplant in November, 2008, and says she has felt better than she has her entire life. The 42-year-old trainer maintains her health by swallowing 30 pills a day and defies doctor’s orders by enthusiastically watching her horses run.
Saturday was no different. She let loose, as she always does, when Mucho Macho Man turned for home with a shot.
“It was really exciting,” she said. “I was jumping around and cheering him on.”
Ritvo and fellow trainer Kathleen O’Connell were hoping to become the first female conditioners to win the Derby. Ritvo’s day went better than O’Connell’s. Her horse, Watch Me Go, went off as a 33-1 dreamer and never factored, finishing next to last.
“It’s unfortunate, but we’ll live to fight another day,” O’Connell said.
SECOND AGAIN: Nehro finished in his customary spot: second.
In a third-straight stakes race, Nehro uncorked a big closing move to get the place spot. The runner-up finishes started in the Louisiana Derby and continued in the Arkansas Derby.
In the Kentucky Derby, Nehro wasn’t as far back. He ran sixth for most of the race with Corey Nakatani aboard before emerging from the pack to briefly take the lead. He came back again, outdueling Mucho Macho Man for second money.
“The little horse ran unbelievable,” trainer Steve Asmussen said. “I’m very proud of him. I sure would have loved to have won it, but I was very excited he ran second. There was way less pace than I thought, and thank goodness Corey was smart enough to take advantage of that.”
His best case scenario is a blazingly fast early pace that softens up the speed horses when Nehro starts his rally.
“We were in a predicament where I didn’t think the pace scenario was as fast as what I needed to get him into a high cruising speed,” Nakatani said. “For him to run this big a race is impressive.”
INJURED: Last-place finisher Comma to the Top suffered an injured left ankle.
Trainer Peter Miller said the horse has a chip fracture.
“We’ll take it out in the next little while,” Miller said. “Then he’s got to go to the sidelines for at least 60 days. This isn’t the end of the world and hopefully it won’t be too bad.”