Female Jockeys in the Kentucky Derby 2014
by Trevor Whenham - 4/21/2014
There is an occurrence likely to happen in this year's Kentucky Derby that is quickly becoming so commonplace that we hardly even need to talk about it. Of course, we'll keep talking about female jockeys riding in the Kentucky Derby right up until the day that a woman wears roses on the first Saturday in May. The most likely woman to do so is again very likely to be the only woman riding in the race - Rosie Napravnik is scheduled to ride Louisiana Derby winner Vicar's in Trouble in the biggest of races this year. While Rosie has made a habit of riding in this race recently - this is her third ride in four years - she is the latest in quite a short line of women in the race. Only five others have entered the starting gate:
Diane Crump: Crump will always be known as the first woman to ever appear in the Kentucky Derby. She finished 15th aboard Fathom in 1970. While that is an amazing accomplishment, what stands out far more than that is that just a year before that, when she was 19, she became the first woman ever to ride in a pari-mutuel race. It's hard to believe that it took that long for that barrier to be broken.
Patricia Cooksey: While you might think that Crump may have started a trend, like Jackie Robinson and others before her, that's just not the case. In fact, it took 14 years for Cooksey to become the second female Derby starter. In 1984 she was 11th in the Derby aboard So Vague. The next year she broke a barrier of her own when she finished sixth in the Preakness as the first woman ever to appear in that race. While Cooksey didn't win the Derby, she was the first woman ever to win a stakes race at Churchill Downs and also the first to win a major stakes race in California.
Andrea Seefeldt: If you watched only the first few furlongs of the Derby in 1991, you would have thought that Seefeldt was on the verge of history. Forty Something, a horse she had picked up the ride on at the last minute, was pushing the early pace hard and had a solid lead after six furlongs. Unfortunately, the horse had nothing left in the tank, the jockey had mismanaged her assets, and they wound up dead last. Seefeldt made up for the disappointment later that summer, though, by delivering a stunning win in the Pennsylvania Derby at 78/1.
Julie Krone: If you were to ask anyone who the best female jockey on history is, you would universally hear Krone. Ask that question in five or six years, though, and there is a very good chance that Napravnik will get the majority of the recognition. Krone's biggest claim to fame is that she is the only woman to win a Triple Crown race - the 1993 Belmont aboard Colonial Affair. She was also the first Breeders' Cup winning female jockey until Napravnik notched her first two years ago. Despite all of her accomplishments and success, she only ever had two Derby mounts - a clear indication of just how impressive the streak that Napravnik is on really is. She rode in the Derby in 1992 and 1995 but never finished better than 11th. Krone is still very visible in the racing world, and she will be rooting for Napravnik for more than just gender pride - she has a standing bet with legendary trainer D. Wayne Lukas that a woman will win the Derby, and she stands to win $10,000 if a woman ever does.
Rosemary Homeister, Jr.: Homeister is still active, but the 1992 Eclipse Award winner for best apprentice jockey with more than 2,500 career wins is competing at far below the elite levels of the sport these days. She made her only Derby appearance in 1993 aboard Supah Blitz. The horse was a 43/1 longshot, so finishing 13th was not a disappointment.
Napravnik: Rosie is just 26 years old, so she is only entering her peak in this game. She currently sits fifth in the country in earnings and fourth in wins, so she is unquestionably among the top active riders in the country. Though she doesn't have a Triple Crown win yet, she has won the Kentucky Oaks, and she is scheduled to ride the heavy favorite again this year.
She is making her third Derby start. In 2011 she made her debut on Pants on Fire. I was disappointed in 2011 because I thought the horse was much better than ninth. Still, the result was the best-ever for a woman in the Derby. As is so often the case in her career, she broke her own record in 2013 when she finished fifth aboard Mylute. She was third aboard the same horse in the Preakness to set another record as well.
Now she is back for her third ride on Vicar's in Trouble. To his credit, that horse easily won the Louisiana Derby. It's hard to get too excited about that race, though. He got a near-perfect trip, was able to set an easy pace, and beat an underwhelming cast of characters. The trip isn't going to be nearly as easy in the Derby, so Napravnik will have her hands full. My hunch is that this is not the year that Napravnik gets her win. I'd bet a whole lot that she will win at least one before she is done, though.
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