Rosie Napravnik was barely 15 years old when she showed up at trainer Dickie Small's barn at Pimlico asking to work his horses in the early dawn.
"She didn't even have a driver's license yet," Small said. "But it was pretty obvious from the start that she wanted to be a jockey, and Rosie couldn't be more diligent. She worked horses for me for several years before finally getting her chance."
When you pick up a program Saturday for Maryland Million Day, you will find A.R. Napravnik - that's 17-year-old Rosie, whose full name is Anna Rose - scheduled to ride six horses.
That was announced yesterday during the draw for the Million Day races at Laurel Park. Her itinerary would be good for a veteran rider, let alone a rookie with 3 1/2 months of professional riding experience, and it left most trainers more than a little astonished.
"That's extraordinary," Small said. "And it's a wonderful opportunity for her. The better the people you ride against, the more you learn."
"Surprising," said trainer Ron Cartwright, whose Irish Colony will run in the $150,000 Maryland Million Turf with veteran Steve Hamilton aboard against Napravnik on Dr Detroit, the Ann Merryman-trained horse who won the Turf last year.
"Apprentices don't get mounts in stakes because they have no advantage with the weights," said Cartwright, referring to the weight allowances apprentices are given. "I've seen her, and I'd use her on one of my horses. She's a natural. But I'm still surprised she has so many rides in the Maryland Million."
Trainer Larry Murray, who will send two horses to the gate Saturday - La Reine's Terms in the Turf and Power Numbers in the $125,000 Nursery for 2-year-olds - said it could be a demonstration of loyalty or admiration for her competence.
"She has ridden for me," said Murray, smiling over Napravnik's win on Classy Band, a horse who paid $77. "I think she's tremendous. ... She's not great for a girl or boy. She's great for anybody."
The only apprentice folks around here can remember getting this kind of acceptance as a rookie is Ryan Fogelsonger, who at 21 also rode six mounts in the 2002 Maryland Million Day races.
Saturday, only six jockeys will have more mounts than Napravnik, who will ride against the best field of jockeys she has ever faced: Fogelsonger, an Eclipse Award winner; Stewart Elliott, a Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner; Mario Pino, Maryland's all-time leading winner; Ramon Dominguez, the nation's leading rider in 2001 and 2003 and its second best last year; and Luis Garcia and Hamilton, who have been top 10 riders in the local jockey colony for several years.
"I told her before the draw, `Don't be surprised if you're bumped off every horse,' " said Napravnik's agent, John Faltynski. "I knew top jockeys coming for the Million could bump her, and we were bumped from two by Dominguez, but when you get bumped by that guy, that's not a slap in the face, that's a compliment.
"During the draw, every `A.R. Napravnik' I heard made my heart beat a little harder."
A little while later, in the women's jockey room, Napravnik, all of 5 feet 2 and 109 pounds, pulled off her helmet and skullcap, revealing a pile of lush red hair. Then, she wiped mud from her cheeks, nose and chin that had been splattered while she rode to a second-place finish - by a half-length - in the day's first race.
Under the mud was a determined chin and a freckled face.
"I've been riding since I was 1," she said. "And I've known since I won a pony race at age 7 that I wanted to be a jockey."
Still, she can see how unlikely it is she will be riding six horses in the Maryland Million.
"As a whole, it is pretty amazing," said Napravnik, who has 14 wins at Laurel and 32 total since becoming a pro in June. "But I've run without a bug [weight allowance] before. I've ridden a stakes race at Colonial Downs and finished third. I'm confident about Saturday."
Maryland Million Day
20th anniversary day of racing for Maryland-sired horses.
Saturday, post time 12:35 p.m.
A total of 145 horses have been entered for 10 races.
Ch. 54 (4 p.m.-6 p.m.)
Totals $1.5 million, a national record for sire stakes events.
MARYLAND MILLION CLASSIC FIELD
(Jockey, odds in parentheses)
1. Off The Glass (Horacio Karamanos, 20-1)
2. Cherokee's Boy (Travis Dunkelberger, 4-1)
3. Aggadan (Ramon Dominguez, 2-1)
4. Presidentialaffair (Stewart Elliott, 9-5)
5. Play Bingo (Ryan Fogelsonger, 6-1)
6. Five Steps (Abel Castellano, 8-1)
7. Bruceybruceybrucey (Mario Pino, 12-1)