When Rosie Napravnik ventures to Pimlico Race Course to ride Bayern in Saturday's 139th running of the Preakness, the 26-year-old riding star can expect an emotional homecoming.
A familiar face will not be there to greet her. Trainer Dickie Small, who gave her a leg up on her very first winner, died April 4.
"There'll be a void at Pimlico," said Napravnik, who guided the Small-trained Ringofdiamonds to victory at Pimlico in her first career ride on June 9, 2005. "When I ride in big races and do well, he's one of the first people I think of. I know how proud of me he would be."
Small's presence will be missed next weekend, but Napravnik can expect a lot of support from family and friends at Pimlico as she attempts to realize a schoolgirl's dream of someday winning the Preakness, as well as the Kentucky Derby.
"It would be just as special. It's a Triple Crown race. It's my home track with all my friends and family around. We'd have half the grandstand cheering for us — that's what would make it special," said Napravnik, who began galloping horses for Small and trainer Holly Robinson at Pimlico while attending Hereford in Baltimore County.
"I would feel like — if I was able to ride the winner of the Preakness — that I was doing it for everybody who got me started in Maryland and who gave me the opportunities that led to Fair Grounds, Kentucky and Saratoga and having a horse in the Preakness."
Napravnik, who finished third aboard Mylute in last year's Preakness, expressed a lot of confidence in the abilities of Bayern, despite his disqualification from first to second in the Derby Trial at Churchill Downs on April 26.
"Coming out of the 1 hole, we had to play a forced hand and go to the lead and it was deeper on the inside of the track. He still ran a good race. He was a game horse," Napravnik said. "The DQ, I don't have much to say about that. He won the race and had to be very gritty to do it."
Napravnik's confidence in Bayern soared during a subsequent five-furlong workout in 581/5 seconds at Churchill on May 5.
"His work was absolutely incredible. He really impresses me in the morning. I was super-excited about him for the Derby Trial and if we're able to have a little more options in positioning, I think he'll be better around two turns than the one-turn mile," she said of Bayern, who galloped 11/2 miles at Churchill on Saturday morning and is scheduled to ship to Pimlico on Wednesday.
Napravnik has become a key player on the national racing stage in recent years, having dominated the Fair Grounds jockey standings three straight years and riding many Grade 1 winners, including Untapable in the Kentucky Oaks (G1) at Churchill on May 2. Yet, the excitement of riding in major stakes such as the Preakness hasn't waned.
"I don't think the big races will ever be old hat. Certainly, I don't think the Triple Crown becomes old hat for anybody," she said. "With the experience of riding in these races more and more often, I'm not overwhelmed by it and can be more prepared each time and know more what to expect."
When she arrives at Pimlico next weekend for yet another big race, she'll pause to reflect on the day Dickie Small gave her a leg up on her first mount.
"I didn't know if I'd be terrible or successful or somewhere in between," she said, "but it's really been the ride of my life."
In other Preakness news:
•St. Elias Stable and West Point Thoroughbreds' Ring Weekend breezed six furlong in 1:131/5 at Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton on Saturday morning in preparation for a possible start in the Preakness..
"He galloped out a mile in 1:41. That's what I was most pleased about: how he galloped out," said trainer Graham Motion, whose Preakness prospect was ridden by longtime assistant and exercise rider Alice Clapham.
Ring Weekend, who captured the Tampa Bay Derby (G3) and finished second in the Calder Derby, missed the Kentucky Derby due to a fever. The gelded son of Tapit missed a few days of training but has been training well since the setback.
"So far, so good," said Motion, who will continue to monitor Ring Weekend's training before committing to the Preakness.
•Trainer Wesley Ward was especially upbeat Saturday as he talked about Pablo Del Monte's six-furlong breeze in 1:12 1/5 at Keeneland, the colt's final workout for the Preakness.
"He's looking great. Couldn't be doing any better," Ward said.
In a change of plans, Pablo Del Monte, who finished third in the Blue Grass Stakes (G1), will be shipped from Lexington, Ky. to Baltimore on Monday rather than on Wednesday. He will be one of five Preakness candidates arriving at Pimlico that day.
Jockey Jeffrey Sanchez, who will ride Pablo Del Monte in the Preakness, was aboard for the breeze, which was done in company with High Wire Kitten. Pablo Del Monte's split times were :12 1/5, :24 4/5, :36 3/5 and :48 4/5, and he galloped out seven furlongs in 1:25.