Napravnik Q&A: Thoroughbreds For All


Rosie Napravnik schools her off-the-track Throughbred Old Ironsides over a cross-country jump (Photo by Lynn Towery Roberts).

Jockey Rosie Napravnik is well known as one of the top jockeys in the nation and also for her passion for racehorse aftercare. 

Napravnik was appointed to Old Friends Farm’s board of directors two days before riding Mylute to a fifth-place finish in the 2013 Kentucky Derby. Napravnik also is the human model for the program’s Fifth Annual “Hats Off to the Horses: The Road to the Kentucky Derby” fundraiser.

Napravnik is the proud owner of Old Ironsides, a retired racehorse she affectionately calls ‘Sugar’. The pair will get a chance to help Thoroughbred aftercare on April 25 when they take part in a demonstration at the Thoroughbreds For All event, presented by New Vocations Racehorse Adoption Program and Retired Racehorse Training Project.

Napravnik sat down with America’s Best Racing to talk about everything from how she got involved in racing to her love of aftercare. To see Napravnik and Sugar’s demonstration at the Thoroughbreds For All event, you can purchase tickets here.

How did you decide to go into racing instead of eventing (her mom, Cindy Faherty Napravnik, trains 3-day event horses)?

When we were in Pony Club they had a pony race every year at the Far Hills races, which is in New Jersey right down the street from where I grew up. There’s a big steeplechase meet there every fall and they used to have pony races there, which they eventually ceased to have the pony races there, but my sister had done it when my mom was pregnant with me and somehow my sister got back into it years later when I was about six. That’s how I actually ended up getting into it. They actually had to hold me back from racing another year because I was so young and so small. So we did the pony races with ponies; my sister started doing it so, of course, I started doing it. Once I started racing, that was it, that was all I needed. All I wanted to do was race and go fast, train my pony and race. I wanted to be a jockey from that day forward.

I raced ponies for seven years competitively, and before I was finished racing ponies I was galloping for [Hall of Fame trainer] Jonathan Sheppard when I was 13. I raced ponies for another year, and then when I was 16 I rode in a few junior horse races, which is basically kids on horses, for Sheppard. It’s just the highest division they have for the pony racing but trainers like Jonathan or Jack Fisher or Bruce Miller might put a horse in there with an older kid they know or may gallop for them just as a prep race, sort of as a breeze, so I was actually able to ride a filly that had run on the track in the junior race.

Then, I went on to ride the amateur National Steeplechase Association (NSA) races. I didn’t ride the steeplechase but they did have training flat races where you basically just ride around the jumps and a lot of trainers would have their horses in there as a prep for later on down the season, so I rode a few amateur races with the NSA before I got my professional jockey’s license.

I really had a great foundation for being prepared to be in a race because there’s really nothing that can prepare you for racing other than just doing it. You can take all the steps just as well as you can, but there’s nothing like a real race. So I had a lot of experience before I actually got my professional license.


Photo by Eclipse Sportswire

Has aftercare always interested you?

I was exposed to the other disciplines before I was exposed to racing, but I wasn’t really active in [aftercare] or actively supporting it until recent years. I guess with my horse that I retired from off the track, what he’s gone on to do and to be has really inspired me and showed me particularly how much potential so many horses have. The more that I’ve ridden and the more different tracks that I’ve ridden, I’ve seen so many horses that may not be running the best but have so much potential to do other things. Realizing how many of them there are who need outlets has really been what’s inspired me to get involved with the aftercare.

What do you think about recent aftercare efforts taken by the industry?

There’s a lot of aftercare programs, which I think is awesome. Even people that have absolutely nothing to do with the track but that have horses competing, they’ll say to me ‘You know, the show that I’m at it’s amazing how much people are in to the off-track Thoroughbreds.’ So it’s really something that’s growing, which is great for our industry and the showing circuit and for the Thoroughbred. It’s definitely something that I’d like to be fully involved in after I’m finished raced.

Can you tell me how you ended up with Sugar?

I started breezing him back in 2006 and he was coming off of a layoff. He was a 5-year-old, so he was an older, classier horse. He was dapple gray at the time, now he’s more of a flea-bitten gray because he’s getting older. But just breezing him, I absolutely fell in love with the horse.

I rode him over two years; I rode him seven times and won two races on him. He had some old injuries that I knew about from the very beginning that the trainer who I was breezing for and riding for originally [told me about].


Photo by Jim McCue

He had had a condylar fracture in front and a condylar fracture behind, which is why [the trainer] sort of limited him to lower levels; he was a much faster horse before that. Then, when he started to get claimed around at the lowest levels, I reached out to the new owners and let them know that if he needed to be retired that I’d love to take him, and that’s what happened.

So, I got him in 2008 and he was lame when I got him … but not for very long. He had an old suspensory [injury] and a chip in his ankle, which we never removed; it’s still in there, actually. But I was actually recovering from a broken leg at the time and I couldn’t ride anyway, so it was perfect. He had a couple of months off and then my mom went right in to re-schooling him, and he’s never had an unsound day and he’s just been a terrific horse. He does whatever, whenever you ask him to do it, and he’s just been wonderful.

How has he adapted to becoming a pony horse (a horse who accompanies racehorses on the track)?

When I first got him, I was boarding him at my mom’s farm and I was riding at Delaware, so I could see him maybe once or twice a month when I drove down to the farm. I’d always had in the back of my mind that I’d like to make him a pony because then I could have him at the track with me. So after a few years, we moved from the East Coast circuit and we came down to New Orleans. It was about two years ago when we were completely off the East Coast circuit, really, that I said, ‘let’s try to make him a pony.’ So we brought him to Belmont [Park] while we were there for a short period of time, and he has turned into an excellent lead pony. He works every morning, he’s 13 years old, he’s sound as can be and also when [my husband] Joe and I have a day off we can throw him in a trailer and go trail riding.

I’ve been bringing him over to Equest Farm to school him recently to get ready for the Thoroughbreds For All [event] that we’re doing, so he works every morning lightly. It’s not a lot of stress on him and I can just bring him over to Equest, jump on him with my English tack, put him through some gymnastics and tune him; and it’s been really fun. I’ve brought him over here twice, and the second time he was so excited and so happy to be doing this sort of stuff that he was so perfect that I couldn’t even believe it. He was so good that I [asked him] ‘who has been training you for the past two weeks since I got on you the last time?’ He was so perfect and he loves his job in the morning, too. He goes around there with his ears pricked every morning; he’s just a happy horse.


Photo by Lynn Towery Roberts

How did you first learn about the Thoroughbreds For All event?

Anna Ford actually contacted me, about it asking if I would do a demo. Of course, I was extremely excited. It actually kind of makes me nervous. It’s not what I’ve been specializing in for the last 10 years, but I’ve still kind of jumped over a few things a couple of times a year. So I was definitely interested in it, and I think it’s a great event and it’s [during the Rolex Three-Day Event], which makes me nervous. There’s going to be 600 people there; it’s huge. Having big names there really attracts a lot of attention, and I think it’s really interesting for that audience to have an actual jockey who is riding an off-track Thoroughbred in another discipline. I think that’s really cool, and I’m very excited to do it.

What can fans look forward to seeing from you and Sugar at the Thoroughbreds For All event?

I’m not really sure what exactly [I’ll be doing]. Anna and I have talked about it, and we both thought it would be cool to show the versatility of a Thoroughbred and do a tack change. So maybe start off with him in Western tack and do something like that, then switch to English tack and hop over a couple of fences. But we haven’t really worked out the specifics yet.

How is your mom helping you prepare for the Thoroughbreds For All event?

She actually moved down here [to New Orleans] for a job managing, teaching, and training at Equest Farm, which is a mile from the racetrack. So, it’s been great because I bring [Sugar] over here and she schools with me. She’s the best teacher I’ve ever had with horsemanship and bringing horses up, retraining horses off the track and retraining in general, taking them through the levels; she’s excellent. It’s been a pleasure to be able to work with her and we don’t always get to spend too much time together, so it’s really been great.


Video courtesy of Rosie Napravnik

Why should fans of Thoroughbreds go to the Thoroughbreds For All event?

I think it’s going to be really a great event, especially with all of the big names coming to do demos and everything that they are going to be displaying and talking about. I think it’s going to be a lot of different things that are going to be very interesting about Thoroughbreds. You’re going to see a lot of different horses in the event, so it’s going to be a lot of fun.

Why would you recommend the Thoroughbred breed to people looking for a riding or show horse?

I wouldn’t really recommend anything else. I’m biased because that’s all I’ve really worked with since I was riding ponies, so I’m definitely biased. But working with so many different Thoroughbreds on the racetrack, they all have incredible personalities, tons of athleticism; my horse, for example, is extremely versatile and can do anything you ask him to do. But they are an all-around horse; they can do anything that you ask them to do. They love to please; they are just a great breed. 


Photo by Lynn Towery Roberts

Have you seen the popularity of Thoroughbreds change over time?

I’ve seen the popularity of the breed definitely change within the past two years, particularly, just really grow in the show circuit and getting off-track Thoroughbreds. I’d been pretty much consumed by the racing circuit, so I hadn’t seen that much outside of it, but now that I’m starting to become more active in aftercare, I’ve seen a lot more of it and I think it’s wonderful.

What advice would you give someone who just bought a horse from the track?

I think it’s important to realize and remember the fact that these horses have only been taught one way. They’ve only been taught to go in circles at various speeds, so you really have to start from the ground up with them and teach them how to move off your leg, teach them how to be ridden because as a jockey. My stirrups are up past my saddle and they can’t even feel my legs, so there are a lot of basics. I think it’s important to start with basics and really teach them from the ground up, and you’re going to have a great horse. They are very smart, so they can learn things fast, but it’s important to take all the very basic first steps and teach them the right way.

Napravnik will be joined at the Thoroughbreds For All event by top dressage rider Linda Zang and eventing Pan American team gold medalist Lynn Symansky. For more information on the Thoroughbreds For All event, click here.

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