Things haven’t always come up roses for Rosie and Rosario at the 2012 Saratoga Race Course meet.
As we get close to the end, though, young jockeys Rosie Napravnik and Joel Rosario believe they’ve had successful meets, measured not only in wins, but, more importantly, in establishing business that will keep them here in the fall and beyond.
Napravnik broke a toe during a gate mishap as the first full week of the meet started, and endured an 0-for-48 slump in early August that stretched over a week and a half.
Rosario caused a bit of a stir when he made the unusual move of firing agent Ron Ebanks — unusual because the California-based jockey did it shortly after the beginning of the meet.
Since replacing Ebanks with Ron Anderson, who has booked races for Hall of Famers Jerry Bailey, Kent Desormeaux and Gary Stevens, Rosario has been solid, winning three on a card for the second time on Thursday. Through 36 of 40 racing days, he’s tied with Hall of Famer John Velazquez for fourth in the standings with 27 winners, and he has some good stakes prospects for the closing weekend,
including James Marvin winner Pacific Ocean in the Forego and Cease in the Woodward on Saturday.
Since endearing herself to Saratoga fans by winning the first race on opening day, Napravnik has a total of 18 winners from 185 mounts, with four days left to hit what her agent, Matt Muzikar, a Saratoga Springs native, said was his goal for her, 22 wins. She rides one of the best 2-year-old fillies in the country, Adirondack winner Kauai Katie, and will ride Starlight Racing’s Shanghai Bobby in the Hopeful on Monday.
“I’m new here,” Rosario said. “It’s really difficult, but I’m happy and winning races. I’m not the leading rider, I’m not Ramon Dominguez and all those guys, but I’ve been winning races, and it’s good.”
“It was a little scary during this meet when we were having a little bit of a hard time, but I think I’ve done really well and we’ll see how it goes this fall and at Breeders’ Cup,” Napravnik said.
Napravnik’s meet couldn’t have started any better, when she won by a neck on 13-1 long shot Nine O Wonderful in the first race of the meet.
Kauai Katie also won that day with a smashing career debut, by 12 lengths.
She broke her toe on July 25 when Magical Season banged into the starting gate on his way out. She was cleared to ride the following day.
From Aug. 2 to Aug. 11, eight racing days, she did not win a race, finally stopping the slide on Kauai Katie, who went off at 2-5 and rolled by 23⁄4 lengths in the Grade II Adirondack.
Asked about the slump after the race, she talked about staying positive and that it’s “always discouraging, especially when people make a comment about it.”
Prone to displays of feistiness, she smiled sweetly and added, “Hopefully, everybody will keep their mouth shut now.”
“If someone’s in a slump, it involved a little bit of luck, just like when someone’s on a roll, they’re having some good luck,” she said on Thursday. “I lost two bobs in the same day when I could’ve just as easily won. Then, once people start to see that or notice that someone’s in a slump, then they’re going to give you a hard time, and that’s what’s the most frustrating thing. I didn’t forget how to do my job.
“I would say some of the racing analysts and handicappers [made comments], and even some of the trainer and owners. It’s hard to ignore because it’s directly affecting the business. But we got back on track, and then it just goes away.”
Ten of Napravnik’s winners have come since the Adirondack, including an impressive performance by the 2-year-old filly Sign by 10 lengths at 10-1 on Sunday.
She had a career breakthrough when Believe You Can won the Kentucky Oaks, her first Grade I, in May, and since Saratoga has opened, she has been getting regular business from trainer Todd Pletcher, and said she appreciates the loyalty shown by Hall of Famer Nick Zito.
“I’ve had a lot of great 2-year-old maiden wins, and the purses up here are just astronomical, so it’s been very prosperous,” she said.
Napravnik has been in high demand from the media, fans and public appearances, but she said she realizes it comes with the territory.
“The fans are great,” she said. “Everyone around Saratoga is racing-oriented and gets super excited about the meet. It’s great to be put out there and see the fans on a daily basis.”
While Rosario, a native of the Dominican Republic who came to the U.S. in 2006, has been in much less demand from the public, he has been in demand by trainers and owners and has quietly assembled a very strong meet.
His previous Saratoga experience amounted to one race — winning the 2010 Alabama on Blind Luck.
A six-time meet winner at Hollywood Park and three-time champ at Del Mar, he moved his tack to New York in June, winning the Dwyer on Teeth of the Dog, and has been a consistent presence in the Saratoga jockey colony, by far the most competitive in the country.
“So far, it’s going good,” Rosario said. “I changed my agent. Me and Ron [Anderson] have been talking for a long time about this, and I thought now was the opportunity to make a change.
“Probably, it was tough for him [Ebank]. I like Ronnie, and he’s my friend. I just had to do it. That’s a tough question, I don’t know why, but Ron [Anderson] has been in this business a long time. It’s different here. We were doing good in California, but I think Ron Anderson knows the horses more here.”
Rosario, who plans to spend the winter at Gulfstream Park because he doesn’t like cold weather, has been riding for a variety of trainers, including Wesley Ward, Al Stall and Rick Dutrow Jr.
He said it took some time to adjust to a different riding style in New York, but he does his homework and spends plenty of time watching replays.
“In California, it’s speed, speed, and here, you just kind of find one pace and keep it going,” he said. “I did really well in California, but I wanted to try it. We’ll see. Unless I was doing really bad or something, I’m staying here and let’s see what happens.”