LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Long shot Princess of Sylmar rallied with a huge stretch run to win the $1 million Kentucky Oaks on Friday at Churchill Downs.
One of four fillies trained by Todd Pletcher in the Grade 1 race, the 38-1 long shot upstaged 3-2 favorite Dreaming of Julia. That positioned Pletcher for a weekend sweep today in the Kentucky Derby, where he has a record-tying five entries – including Verrazano and Dogwood Stable’s Palace Malice.
A slow start doomed Dreaming of Julia, who lagged behind before recovering in the stretch to finish fourth. By then, Princess of Sylmar was thrilling a crowd of 113,820 with her third win in four starts this year.
Starting from the No. 6 post with Hall of Famer Mike Smith aboard, Princess of Sylmar ran 1⅛ miles in 1:49.17 and paid $79.60, $29.40 and $14.00. Beholder returned $9 and $5.60, and Unlimited Budget paid $3.80 to show.
Princess of Sylmar gave Pletcher his third Oaks win and Smith his first, adding to a résumé highlighted by a career Triple Crown – including a 2005 Derby victory aboard Giacomo.
“I’ve never come close in the Kentucky Oaks and I’ve always wanted to win this race so bad,” Smith said. “I thank Todd for putting her in.”
As the field turned for home, Smith had Princess of Sylmar in the clear but fourth behind Midnight Lucky, Beholder and Unlimited Budget. Beholder dispatched Midnight Lucky but was caught by Princess of Sylmar in the stretch.
DOUBLING UP: Gary Stevens will be pulling double-duty at the Derby by riding in the race and reporting on it.
The Hall of Fame jockey will be aboard Oxbow, a 25-1 long shot in today’s race.
The 50-year-old jockey is four months into a comeback after being retired for seven years.
During his years out of the saddle, Stevens joined NBC as a racing analyst.
Since he can’t be in two places at once, Stevens will contribute a taped interview to the broadcast and will be miked for sound during the race.
ROSIE’S RIDE: Rosie Napravnik isn’t worried about history. She is, however, working on her chemistry – with a horse named Mylute in the Derby.
Two years after achieving the best finish by a female jockey in the Derby, she will try to become the first woman to win it. Napravnik’s pursuit of the milestone comes a year after she became the first female rider to win the Oaks.
Mylute is a 14-1 shot to win the Derby today, but his last win came in December with Napravnik aboard.
Napravnik is confident Mylute will give her a shot.
“Mylute will definitely come from off the pace because that’s his style,” said Napravnik, who will start from the No. 6 post position. “That’s not a bad style to have when the race is a mile and a quarter. It’s very long, so if you can have a horse that can stay relaxed in the first part, that’s definitely to your advantage.”
For her part, Napravnik has been more relaxed preparing for her second Derby appearance. That hasn’t been easy considering the barrage of questions about her attempt to do what six women, including herself, have failed to do in 138 previous Derbys against male jockeys.
Napravnik is well aware of the tectonic impact her victory could have. But, for now, the 25-year-old New Jersey rider is simply embracing the attention her presence has brought to the sport.
Having gone through the Derby experience in 2011 while guiding Pants On Fire to a ninth-place finish, Napravnik feels more like a veteran the second time around.
“It’s nice to have the experience of when I was here two years ago,” she said. “It’s a little less overwhelming and I know what to expect. I’ve been able to handle it better.
“A lot has happened in my career since I was here two years ago. I think I’ve been more recognized, it’s very flattering and everybody has been very positive. Winning the Kentucky Oaks last year was probably the greatest moment of my career.”
As it turned out, Napravnik’s breakthrough victory aboard Believe You Can in the Oaks was just the first of several big moments. She rode Shanghai Bobby to five wins including the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita, helping the colt claim the 2-year-old championship.
A couple of months later she climbed aboard Mylute at Fair Grounds Race Course near New Orleans and immediately forged a bond that led to a second mount in the Derby. The horse earned his second career win by nearly 11 lengths on Dec. 26, his best effort in nine starts.
Napravnik went on to be Fair Grounds’ top rider for the third straight year, adding similar honors at Laurel, Pimlico and Delaware Park.
“We’re lucky to have her,” Amoss said. “It may be a bit surprising that she was available for the Kentucky Derby with what I thought about her being very much in demand. But their loss is our gain.”
Amoss struggles for an exact description of Napravnik’s success but notes that her ability to connect quickly with her mounts. The only other jockey he has seen with that talent is Hall of Famer Pat Day, which is saying something.
At the same time, Amoss notes Napravnik’s businesslike demeanor that has helped her deal with a male-dominated sport. Not to mention, all the attention she has gotten.
Napravnik is all smiles when it comes to Mylute. She has been pleased with his breezes this week and is ready for Saturday.
‘’He feels great, he’s acting great and I’m very confident heading into the Derby,” she said. “Hopefully, we can make history.”