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2013

Napravnik tipped for Shergar Cup success

Leading an all-female team at Ascot, American riding sensation Rosie Napravnik among the favourites to win the trophy.

Last Modified: 09 Aug 2013 10:58
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Napravnik became the first woman to ride in all three Triple Crown races this year [GETTY]

Rosie Napravnik has a hangover and she is struggling.

The poster girl of American racing has endured a tortuous journey from New Jersey, USA, to Ascot, England, where she is due to captain the Girls' Team in the Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup international jockeys’ competition on Saturday.

She’s only drinking water and she’s trying to work out whether the ingredients to the headache pills handed to her are permitted under the stringent rules of racing.

"I had a 30-minute flight from Albany to Newark and my flight was cancelled so I missed my connection," Napravnik explains.

"So I spent nine hours in Newark airport. I slept in uncomfortable positions. I read some books and two hours before the flight I went and drank as much wine as I could so I would sleep on the plane.

"I have a headache so bad now I can barely think."

This is clearly Napravnik at her lowest ebb. On Saturday she will lead Cathy Gannon, an Irish journeywoman rider, and Lisa Allpress, New Zealand’s champion jockey, against three teams of elite male riders – few sports can claim such equality between genders.

Gary Stevens, the American Hall of Fame rider, leads the Rest Of the World team.

Kieren Fallon, the six-time British champion jockey leads the Great Britain and Ireland team. Gerald Mosse, who is one of the most accomplished international horsemen currently plying his trade, will skipper the European team.

Napravnik has earned her spurs and fully merits her place in the line-up. Her rise has meteoric and records in America have tumbled due to her exquisite sense of timing and ability to strike up relationships with horses quickly.

Napravnik will skipper the Girls' Team in Saturday's race [Geoffrey Riddle]

The 25-year-old New Jersey native started riding in 2005 and became one of only six women to get the leg-up on a horse in America’s prestigious Kentucky Derby just six years later.

Pants On Fire finished ninth, which is the best placing a female rider had achieved. Not content with that success, Napravnik broke her own record this year when she was fifth at Churchill Downs on Mylute, and was then third on the same horse in the Preakness Stakes.

She was then sixth on Unlimited Budget in the Belmont Stakes, meaning she became the first woman to participate in all three of America’s Triple Crown races in the same year.

Add to her win in the Kentucky Oaks in 2012 on Believe You Can and it is hardly surprising Napravnik has accumulated over $50m in prize-money.

Challenging course

Napravnik has never ridden outside of America, which means all of her experience has been on left-handed, flat racecourses.

Ascot, where the Royal meeting is staged every June, is right-handed, undulating and has a steep incline at the finish.

Stevens used to ride the course in his sleep when he operated in Britain for a season in 1999. He rode for Sir Michael Stoute, who is based in Newmarket, and partnered several horses for The Queen in a curtailed stay that involved returning to the US.

The 50-year-old made a comeback from a seven-year retirement in January, having tried his hand at acting in the film Seabiscuit and the doomed HBO series, Luck.

He finished his riding career with eight Triple Crown victories and earnings of over $200m, but added to that haul on Oxbow in the Preakness Stakes in May. It illustrated that he had lost none of his dash in the saddle.

Stevens also worked as an analyst for a sports network in America during his dotage, and with his pundit hat on he feels Napravnik is a real contender for the Silver Saddle, the prize for the jockey that accumulates the most points from their five rides.

 "Her strength is her confidence in herself" Stevens said.

"Her ability to get on horses that she has never seen before is key.

"She has 12 minutes to get acquainted with them and immediately has a rapport with them. She is consistent, she finishes her races strongly and she isn’t intimidated by the male dominance of our sport. She’s respected."

Geoffrey Riddle is an international horseracing writer for Racing UK and The National, the quality daily based in the UAE. He has covered racing for the Sunday Times, Reuters, Agence-France Presse and the International Herald Tribune. You can follow him on Twitter at @Louchepunter

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Al Jazeera
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