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Ex-jockey Rosie Napravnik had a very successful 2019 Thoroughbred Makeover riding former racehorses Sanimo (right, with Napravnik aboard) and Bethel Wildcat. (Melissa Bauer-Herzog/America's Best Racing)
Ex-jockey Rosie Napravnik had a very successful 2019 Thoroughbred Makeover riding former racehorses Sanimo (right, with Napravnik aboard) and Bethel Wildcat. (Melissa Bauer-Herzog/America's Best Racing)

by Melissa Bauer-Herzog

When retired Grade 1-winning jockey Rosie Napravnik pulled into the Kentucky Horse Park on Tuesday with her three Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover Presented by Thoroughbred Charities of America horses, she had a feeling she’d be going to Saturday’s Finale.

She was right – she just picked the wrong horse when naming Bethel Wildcat as the horse most likely to get her there.

Napravnik had entered Sanimo and Bethel Wildcat in the Eventing division at the “Makeover” while she was also competing on Team Rosie Napravnik Off-Track Sporthorses in Show Hunters with My Man Sam. Soon after arriving at the Park on Tuesday, she schooled all three horses in the rings they would be competing in before having a chance to walk her courses on Wednesday after showing “Bethel.”

“I brought the horses in on Tuesday so they were all able to school in the rings that they were going to compete in, which is really great. It’s great to get them acclimated to the atmosphere and the horse that ended up winning – Sanimo – he was quite reactive to the atmosphere on Tuesday and then we went back and schooled again in the warm-up on Wednesday. Then on Thursday he just came out and from the first upward transition he was just fabulous,” Napravnik said.

“On Wednesday I just had Bethel Wildcat going so I was actually able to have time to walk the cross country course after my dressage test before I had to go back to show jumping, and then I was able to walk the show jumping course right before I went into the ring. There’s just so much to do, and fitting everything in becomes a real job, but the Retired Racehorse Project has done a great job of making rings available and having everything prepared.”

My Man Sam was the first horse on Napravnik’s schedule on Thursday with the Kentucky Derby runner competing in the Show Hunters division. An unlucky rail falling unfortunately dropped his score but overall Team Rosie Napravnik Off-Track Sporthorses was proud of their horse, with “Sam” placing 19th out of 136.

“It was really unfortunate I had a rail in his first over fences course – it wasn’t even a bad fence, but we just had very little room which lowered our score but his overall round was really a great rhythm and he just did phenomenally well,” she said. “He was well behaved, he had great manners and his second over fences round was with my sister Jazz, who is one of my teammates, and he just went equally as well. In the hack class, he was very well behaved and performed really well. He is definitely the greenest of the three of the horses I brought. I was super happy with him and I’ve had a little bit of interest in him, I’ve just been trying to find him the perfect match. He’s a really, really special horse.”

A bit of confusion for Napravnik about the scoring of bonus fences during cross country on Wednesday had cost Bethel the extra points he needed to get into the Finale. But Napravnik had more information about the scoring when she tackled cross country on Thursday, and that helped Sanimo take the lead in the class after performing well in both the dressage and stadium jumping phases of the event.

“My event horses actually scored identical scores in dressage, then [Sanimo] scored second highest in show jumping and cross country,” she said. “Bethel Wildcat was the horse that was definitely going to be the most competitive of the three I had going to the Makeover, and he was. If he had those extra 10 points he would have been in the Finale with a chance to move up to second or [get] the win. But Sanimo’s been a horse that’s really just come into his own at the right time. He’s the youngest, he’s four, so with ‘Mo’ being the baby he was started later and slower and just has taken a little bit longer to mature, and he just blossomed in the last three or four weeks, he did really well in his last horse trial, which was about three weeks before the Makeover. He just peaked at the Makeover and I’ve just been so, so, so pleased with him.”

Performing flawlessly in the Finale, Sanimo showed that Napravnik’s patience with him paid off when keeping his lead in the Eventing class. While Napravnik has owned him since February of 2018, he’d spent most of 2018 turned out to grow up and received 45 days’ worth of riding, starting on Dec. 1 He then spent another 90 days turned out last spring before beginning serious Makeover training.

Mentally immature, Sanimo had proven to be a challenging horse to train, so understandably, Napravnik was emotional when she won the Eventing class on the 4-year-old. Even better was that she had both horses finish in the top 10 in Eventing, as Bethel Wildcat finished eighth of 67 horses.

“I had some mental setbacks myself with Sanimo, so overcoming that and ending up in the Finale on that horse was really a huge surprise,” she said. “Then to pull through with the win and this being the horse I had always hoped to keep since I got him almost two years ago, it was just all crazy the way that worked out. That’s just what made it so emotional is that this is the horse that I hope to go up the levels on in Eventing and sort of go for that second career myself. This horse is just as big a part of my second career as I am in his.”

As for the plans for all three of her entries, they depend on how much longer the horses are in her barn. All three geldings were advertised for sale in the ASPCA Makeover Marketplace at the Makeover, and she’ll be picking up their advertising in coming weeks.

My Man Sam has already had interest from some buyers while Bethel Wildcat and Sanimo will both be competing in the Hagyard MidSouth Team Challenge at the Horse Park later this month. Bethel’s racing owner and breeder Dr. Stuart Brown has supported the horse through his retraining process with the goal of selling him after the Makeover. But Napravnik is looking to go down another avenue when it comes to “selling” Sanimo.

“Sanimo is for sale sort of at an inflated price of his potential and what it would be worth for me to sell him versus keeping him,” she said. “I would definitely also be open to looking for partnerships for someone or multiple people who would like to become partners and make our way up the levels with a really quality young horse.”

Sanimo will receive nearly all of November off after his next competition before entering back into work in December, as Napravnik is staying in Kentucky this winter. His main goal in 2020 is to qualify for the American Eventing Championships at the Horse Park next Fall, while another goal Napravnik has for herself is to take her next generation of off-track Thoroughbreds to the Makeover.

With a full barn and most of the horses eligible for the Makeover, she already has a few in mind for the restarting process when training commences on Dec. 1 if they don’t sell to other riders before then.

In that group? A regally bred half-brother to Horse of the Year Havre De Grace named Verhalen, who looks to return Napravnik to the winner’s circle yet again at the 2020 Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover.

This article originally appeared on America's Best Racing and is published here with permission.

Find other inspiring stories in our section on Retire & Rehome.

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