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Mar 30, 2012

Up the Backstretch: Rosie goes for another rosy bayou win

By: By Don Agriss, Horse Racing Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Jockey Rosie Napravnik has the mount on the favorite in Sunday's $1 million Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds Race Course. The leading rider at the track's current meet will once again be aboard Mark Valeski for the 99th edition of the 1 1/8-mile Kentucky Derby prep.

This is a familiar scene for the top female jockey in the nation and a chance to duplicate a victory in last year's 98th running when she guided Pants On Fire to the winner's circle.

"My greatest moment in my career was winning the Louisiana Derby," Napravnik said during a teleconference, "and, you know, obviously that horse does hold a special place to me."

Rosie became the first woman to win the Louisiana Derby and only the sixth woman to ride in the Kentucky Derby when she and Pants On Fire finished ninth.

"Myself riding in the Derby last year was really awesome," Napravnik said. "I think it's great to see women in this industry being so successful and, you know, it really has been unbelievable. The real stars of racing in the past four years or so have been -- it's unbelievable -- females, you know, horse and human."

Last year, Napravnik got a leg up from trainer Kelly Breen in the Louisiana Derby. On Sunday, it will be Larry Jones who will give the Maryland native a boost into the saddle aboard Mark Valeski. The colt will be coupled with Mr. Bowling and the pair will start next to each other in the 13-horse field.

"I wouldn't trade places with anybody in that race, absolutely not," the jockey said about Sunday's Derby. "I mean, I have all the confidence in the world in going into Louisiana Derby and, like I said, he's done nothing but impress me."

Mark Valeski was beaten by a nose in the Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds by El Padrino after a hard-fought battle down the stretch. El Padrino will be in Saturday's Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park versus Union Rags.

"We should have and would have come out the winner if there was no interference in that race," Napravnik said. "You have to remember that there was an inquiry and a claim of foul, and I truly believe that he would have won that race if ... had we not been bumped around and leaned on most of the way down the lane, so I think, you know, he's only going to improve off of that race. I don't think that the distance is going to limit him, and, you know, I don't really have any hesitation with the mile and the eighth or going into this race in the Louisiana Derby."

Unfortunately, the Louisiana Derby has not been an accurate indicator of a horse's Kentucky Derby performance. In 2009, Friesian Fire won the New Orleans race, was the favorite in the Run for the Roses but finished next-to-last.

The last horse to win both the Louisiana Derby and the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs was Grindstone in 1996.

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