Racing News

Believe You Can gives Napravnik historic win in Kentucky Oaks

  • Believe You Can pulled clear in the final yards to win Oaks 138. (Reed Palmer,Churchill Downs)

  • Jockey Rosie Napravnik celebrated her historic victory. (Reed Palmer, Chruchill Downs)

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Jockey Rosie Napravnik became the first woman rider to win the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks on Friday when piloting Believe You Can to victory over a stubborn Broadway's Alibi at Churchill Downs.

"It's unbelievable. I'm just so happy and so grateful to be here," Napravnik said. "There's a lot of people that are a big part of me getting to this and winning this race and I just can't thank everybody enough.

"I cried a little but I don't think I'm done crying yet.

"Last year was kind of a tease (finishing a fast-closing second on St. John's River), I was so close but not there, and this year I was determined to be the one in the winner's circle and I had the right horse to do it," Napravnik added.

The race was pushed back about a half-hour after a powerful storm blew through the area, but the delay apparently didn't affect Believe You Can, who finished 1 1/8 miles over the fast track in 1:49 2/5.

The attendance was the second largest in Oaks history, surpassed by only the 116,046 on hand for the 2010 running.

Owner Brereton C. Jones and trainer Larry Jones visited the Oaks winner's circle for a second time after sending out eventual champion three-year-old filly Proud Spell to take the 2008 running. Believe You Can began her case for an Eclipse Award when gutting out the victory on Friday to move her record to 9-6-0-0. The winner's share of the $1 million purse more than doubled the Proud Citizen filly's earnings to $1,059,484.

Believe You Can paid $29.60, $11.80 and $6.40 for overtaking Broadway's Alibi nearing the wire and posting the three-quarter length victory. Grace Hall, the 5-2 favorite, was another 2 1/2 lengths behind in third with Summer Applause filling out the top four.

"I think she handled the track OK but the first time over a track, she paddles a lot. She lost some momentum. The ground broke away from her," said John Velazquez, who was aboard Broadway's Alibi. "I don't think the distance hurt her, I think the track didn't help. She still ran a huge race."

"The track was playing for speed today. Unfortunately, it didn't work out for me. They didn't come back to me. I was third best today," explained Grace Hall's rider, Javier Castellano.

On Fire Baby, the second choice at 4-1, came next while Hard Not to Like, Sacristy, Amie's Dini, And Why Not, Jemima's Pearl, Colonial Empress, Karlovy Vary, Yara and Eden's Moon completing the order of finish. Oaks Lily did not draw in from the also-eligible list.

Believe You Can settled just to the outside of Broadway's Alibi as that one quickly moved to the front when the gates opened. The pacesetter established splits of :23, :47 2/5 and 1:11 4/5 with On Fire Baby to her inside and behind while maiden Colonial Empress kept that one company. Nearing the turn, both Broadway's Alibi and Believe You Can began drawing away, hitting the stretch running in tandem.

Napravnik gave Believe You Can the signal to go on, but Broadway's Alibi would not yield so easily. The pair fought it out down the lane, with Believe You Can just gutting out the win as the 13-1 fifth pick.

Believe You Can opened her career with a fourth in a Monmouth Park maiden, but broke her maiden next out at Delaware Park and went on a three-race win streak. During that time she also captured an optional claimer at Delaware Park then won her stakes debut in the Grade 3 Tempted Stakes at Belmont Park. In her only other try under the Twin Spires, the dark bay miss ran sixth in the Grade 2 Pocahontas Stakes to close out her juvenile season.

Believe You Can was given a three-month break and returned to make her three-year-old bow a 1 1/2-length victory in the Silverbulletday Stakes at Fair Grounds. She continued her Kentucky Oaks preparations at the New Orleans venue but weakened to fourth in her next start, the Grade 3 Rachel Alexandra Stakes. The Kentucky homebred got back to her winning ways in the Grade 2 Fair Grounds Oaks last out, holding by head over Summer Applause.

Believe You Can is out of the unraced El Prado mare El Fasto and stayed with her breeder after failing to meet her reserve when only attracting a $70,000 bid as a Keeneland September yearling. El Fasto is a half-sister to Grade 2 heroine Classic Elegance, and this family has also produced Grade 2 victor Rush Bay as well as Grade 3 winners Chorwon and Basket Weave.

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