Napravnik wins twice at Fair Grounds

Photo provided by HODGES PHOTOGRAPHY Unlimited Budget, front, with Rosie Napravnik aboard, charges down the stretch to capture the Rachel Alexandra Stakes horse race at the Fair Grounds on Feb. 23 in New Orleans.
Photo provided by HODGES PHOTOGRAPHY Unlimited Budget, front, with Rosie Napravnik aboard, charges down the stretch to capture the Rachel Alexandra Stakes horse race at the Fair Grounds on Feb. 23 in New Orleans.

NEW ORLEANS — Just like every great jockey, Rosie Napravnik is never satisfied with a win. Or two wins, for that matter.

The Fair Grounds Race Course 2012-13 meet jockey points and earnings leader first made waves Saturday at the facility’s Louisiana Derby Preview Day by winning the $150,000, Grade III Mineshaft Handicap aboard Mark Valeski.

Then, in the next race — the 32nd running of the $200,000 Rachel Alexandra Stakes for 3-year-old fillies — Napravnik scored her second win in a row by piloting Todd Pletcher-trained Unlimited Budget to victory.

Covered in dirt as she hustled from the winner’s circle after the Alexandra to the paddock to prep for the Risen Star Stakes, Napravnik was asked what it felt like to win two straight graded stakes contests. Without cracking a smile on her intense visage, she put up her hand as politely as she could.

“Ask me that after the next race,” she said before striding off.

Napravnik couldn’t pull off the hat trick in the Risen Star, which was won by 135-1 longshot Ive Struck a Nerve, but she did manage to take third aboard Palace Malice.

In the end, she had to settle for a victory in the Alexandra, an outcome that virtually assures Palace and Napravnik a spot in the May 3 Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs, the country’s most prestigious race for 3-year-old fillies that precedes the Kentucky Derby.

After the Alexandra, Napravnik told reporters that Unlimited Budget’s triumph in the contest was a satisfying one.

“She was much the best,” the jockey said. “It ended up being a crazy pace up front, so we were a little further back, but it set up well for her, and she just galloped away with it.”

In addition to the Rachel Alexandra victory, Napravnik’s win in the Mineshaft Handicap added to the course’s jockey standings lead. But it also thrilled Mark Valeski’s trainer, Larry Jones. Valesky spent much of the contest pinned along the rail but eventually emerged from the field and rode the outside to victory.

“I felt that once he found some daylight, he would be able to make it out and finish with a flourish,” Jones said.

In the day’s other graded stakes contest, the $150,000, Grade III Fair Grounds Handicap, rider Jon Court piloted Optimizer to the winner’s circle in the card’s biggest turf race. Optimizer is trained by D. Wayne Lukas and owned by Brad Kelley. And for the record, Napravnik finished third in the Fair Grounds ’Cap aboard Two Months Rent.

“His performance was as top-shelf as it could have possibly been,” Court said of Optimizer.

“He handled the (soft track) well enough to save some ground and make that move towards the lead down on the inside, and that put us in the winner’s circle.”