Napravnik makes Kentucky Derby history

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Associated Press

Posted on May 8, 2011 at 12:00 PM

Updated Sunday, May 8 at 12:00 PM

LOUISVILLE, Kentucky (AP) — Rosie Napravnik wasn't in the winner's circle at the Kentucky Derby on Saturday, but she ended up making history anyway.

The 23-year-old posted the highest finish by a female rider in the race when she guided Pants On Fire to ninth place.

The effort topped the 11th-place finishes by Patricia Cooksey in 1984 aboard So Vague and Hall of Famer Julie Krone in 1995 atop Suave Prospect.

"I couldn't have wished for a better trip," Napravnik said.

Napravnik had perhaps the best shot to become the first female jockey to capture the Derby with Pants on Fire, who burst onto the racing scene after taking the Louisiana Derby in March. Bettors flocked to her horse before Saturday's race, making Pants On Fire the 8-1 second choice.

The colt stayed with the leaders in the 19-horse field until the final stretch when Animal Kingdom surged ahead to win. Still, Napravnik was encouraged by her horse's performance.

"I think the best feeling was when I just kind of tapped him ... and I angled outside and I had some left and I was like, 'Oh boy, I wonder where we're going from here,'" she said.

Meantime, Kathy Ritvo's colt Mucho Macho Man finished third, equaling the second-best finish by a female trainer in the Derby.

"He was fabulous today," said Ritvo, who nearly died from heart disease three years ago before receiving a lifesaving transplant. "It went just the way we thought it would. He gave it his all. He finished up well."

Mucho Macho Man had Animal Kingdom in his sights in the middle of the final stretch, but didn't have enough of a kick at the end to catch the winner.

"At every point in the race that I needed something from him, he gave it to me," said jockey Rajiv Maragh, who replaced Eibar Coa as the horse's rider after Coa was injured in a fall. "He was just third. He ran 110 percent."

Mucho Macho Man captured the Risen Star Stakes in New Orleans in February and followed it up with a good showing at the Louisiana Derby, finishing third despite losing a shoe early in the race.

"He's only going to get better," Ritvo said. "He's only a June 15 foal. He'll come back hopefully in a couple weeks (in the Preakness)."

Ritvo struggled for years with a degenerative heart disease that killed her older brother 15 years ago. She underwent a 17-hour transplant in November 2008, and says she has felt better than she has her entire life.

The 42-year-old maintains her health by taking 30 pills a day and defies doctor's orders by enthusiastically watching her horses run.

"It was really exciting," she said of Saturday's race. "I was jumping around and cheering him on."

Kathleen O'Connell was also hoping to become the first female conditioner to win the Derby, but her horse, Watch Me Go, was never a factor, finishing next to last.

"It's unfortunate, but we'll live to fight another day," O'Connell said.

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SECOND AGAIN: Nehro finished in his customary spot: second place.

In a third-straight stakes race, Nehro made a big closing move to get the second-place spot. The runner-up finishes started in the Louisiana Derby and continued in the Arkansas Derby.

Nehro ran sixth for most of Saturday's race with Corey Nakatani aboard before emerging from the pack to briefly take the lead. He came back again at the end to beat Mucho Macho Man for second.

"The little horse ran unbelievable," trainer Steve Asmussen said. "I'm very proud of him. I sure would have loved to have won it, but I was very excited he ran second."

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INJURED: Last-place finisher Comma to the Top suffered an injured left ankle in the race.

Trainer Peter Miller said the horse has a chip fracture.

"We'll take it out in the next little while," Miller said. "Then he's got to go to the sidelines for at least 60 days. This isn't the end of the world and hopefully it won't be too bad."

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