Six months ago, apprentice Rosie Napravnik sat in the women's jockey room at Laurel Park, quietly answering questions about her young career.
At 17, she was shy and unsure. Today, as Laurel Park wraps up its winter meeting, an 18-year-old Napravnik will put the cap on her first professional meet title.
"Probably, I'm a lot more confident," Napravnik said, her creaseless, freckled face lighting up. "I've proven I can do well. I've topped out here. I'm confident because I've won the meet."
Sitting on a sofa, an ice bag behind her head, Napravnik was fighting strep throat. "I could take the day off," she said. "I've got the meet wrapped up. But I hate to do that because people are depending on me to ride. So, I'll keep going as long as I can."
Actually, she's blown her competition away. Going in to the last day, she has 97 wins. Her nearest rival, Erick Rodriguez, has 55.
On the national level, she is seventh in wins overall and third among apprentice riders since Jan. 1, behind Kentucky rider Julien Leparoux (174 wins) and Northern California rider Martin Garcia (129). On the national money-earnings list, she is 25th with $1,628,120.
At Laurel Park, she has had 32 multiple-win days, including three cards on which she won four times. And she has won the jockey title despite a week-long suspension in March for a riding infraction.
The week off, she said, might have actually been a blessing. Given the fact her back was bothering her, the time off was therapeutic.
"She rides a smart race," said jockey Ryan Fogelsonger, who won an Eclipse Award as an apprentice in 2002. "And everyone loves a bug [apprentice]. If you get hot, with a five-pound advantage, you go to the top of the [riding] list. That's how it worked for me and that's how it has worked for her."
Fogelsonger, who suffered from back trouble early in the meet and needed work with a chiropractor to straighten out his problem, has the third-most winners, 47, in the winter meet. Luis Garcia is fourth with 45. All four are over a million in winnings at the meet.
Scott Lake is the runaway winner in the trainers' race. Going in to today, he has 58 winners to John Rigattieri's 31.
Fogelsonger said he is looking forward to battling Napravnik at Pimlico this spring.
The Pimlico meet will begin Thursday, and Napravnik's agent, John Faltynski, said he has already lined up rides for her in every scheduled stakes race at the track, including the Preakness - if all goes well for the Katie Voss-trained Hour Peak in the Tessio Stakes and the horse qualifies for the middle leg of the Triple Crown series.
At Pimlico, horses will race on a Thursday-through-Sunday schedule, allowing such jockeys as Napravnik and Fogelsonger to also ride two days a week at Delaware Park. Napravnik said she is looking forward to testing her skills in a new arena.
"It will be like starting over," she said. "There is a stronger jockey colony there, but I hope to be able to keep going. I hope, one day - maybe it will be years from now, but one day - to get an opportunity to ride in New York or California. I love Maryland, but I want to test myself."
With that in mind, she has set a goal of 200 winners as an apprentice. At the moment, she has 168, having won 71 last year before breaking her left collarbone and missing five weeks.
Overall, Napravnik, who takes home 10 percent of her purse winnings, has won $2,938,825 since beginning her pro career last summer.
Fogelsonger said Delaware will be a test for Napravnik, who will carry the five-pound apprentice allowance until August.
"We've got a very good jockey colony here in Maryland," Fogelsonger said. "But in Delaware, Jeremy Rose, Stu Elliott and Ramon Dominguez will be riding. It's a very tough colony.
"Plus, the racetrack is different, the races fan out in a different way and there are new trainers she doesn't usually ride for, that she has to meet. It will be different. ... It will be harder for her to get the good horses."
But Fogelsonger added, once she starts to win there and shows she can do the job, she could find herself becoming popular all over again. And Faltynski said he already has "15 outfits ready to ride her" at Delaware.
"She works hard and shows up every day," said Faltynski. "People are willing to give her a chance. She's in a real good situation right now. And to see how she continues to improve after every race, well, it's scary to me."