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With Watertown ties, Napravnik vies to make history at Kentucky Derby

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Rosie Napravnik has plenty to race for in Saturday’s 139th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs.

The 25-year-old jockey from New Jersey, who will ride Mylute, can become the first woman to win the most prestigious prize in the sport of horse racing.

Her ninth-place finish in 2011, the only other time she competed in the Derby, is the highest a female has ever finished in the race.

But Napravnik is racing for more than a chance to make history. She’ll also be racing for her in-laws, specifically, her mother-in-law Sara Escudero, who was born and raised in Watertown.

Napravnik married Joe Sharp in 2011. Sharp is the son of Escudero, who grew up on her parents’ farm on Gillette Road and graduated from Watertown High School.

Napravnik — who became the first woman to win a Kentucky Oaks race in 2012 — is regarded as “the hottest jockey in America,” as she ranks second in the nation with 114 wins and fifth in earnings with more than $4.3 million this year. She was profiled on CBS’s “60 Minutes,” this past Sunday.

As the excitement builds for her family in these remaining hectic days leading up to the big race, Escudero said there is one thing missing.

“I just wish my parents were here to see it,” Escudero said.

Both of Sara’s parents died within the last two years. Her father, Edward, died at the age of 91 in April 2011 and her mother, Mary, at 86, in April 2012.

Edward was active in the area as a member of the Lions Club and the Ives Hill Golf Course. He owned and operated “Escudero Construction,” which concentrated on projects around the north country.

Mary was a dedicated volunteer and member of St. Patrick’s Church, and described as an avid sports fan.

Napravnik’s husband, Sharp, was born in Virginia, but visited the area frequently and spent most of his childhood summers with his grandparents.

He works in the industry as an assistant trainer for Michael Maker, who will have one horse, Fear The Kitten, in the Derby field.

“He was very close with his grandparents, who lived in Watertown, and he spent a lot of time there when he was a kid and really loved the area,” Napravnik said. “He’s got a great family, we’re all pretty close.”

“The farm where his grandparents lived was everything a kid would want when they’re running around at a young age, free range, I know that’s what he liked most about (Watertown),” she added.

Napravnik, who said she sees her in-laws more than her own family, said that meeting Mary Escudero is her most cherished memory from visiting the area, which she has done several times since she began dating Sharp in 2009.

“I came up and I met his grandmother shortly before she passed away,” Napravnik said. “That was kind of his last opportunity to get to see her and they were very close, so it was emotional for him, but it was really nice for me to be up there and spend time with some of his aunts and uncles and get to meet his grandmother.”

Napravnik will have her in-laws by her side all week — a busy week that includes a plethora of races and other events.

She will serve as a guest bartender at one of the events tonight, and, on Thursday, will be the recipient of this year’s “Ferdinand Award,” which goes to an individual showing “unwavering commitment to ethical horse retirement and has made a difference.”

But that’s nothing new as Sara travels around the country, from race to race, with Sharp and/or Napravnik.

“We spend a lot of time together because we’re always on the same circuit as far as racing, so we do a lot of family stuff together,” said Escudero, whose sister Judy Needham owned the mare that sired 2009 Derby winner Mine That Bird.

Napravnik described this week leading up to the Derby as “crazy busy,” but said that it was “the ultimate experience.”

“I was very excited to be there (in 2011) and I sort of looked at it as a once in a lifetime chance to ride in the Derby, although afterward I was hoping that it wouldn’t be once in a lifetime because it was such a cool experience,” Napravnik said. “Win or lose, just being a part of it is really exciting.”

The most recent odds released last Thursday had Mylute listed at 12-1, tied for sixth in the 20-horse field. The odds will be updated after the draw is released today.

Mylute has won two of its nine career races. Napravnik rode the gray colt to its last victory in December at the Fair Grounds race course in an allowance race at New Orleans.

“She has a lot of ability and she’s one of a kind,” Escudero said. “She has a unique way with the horses, that’s for sure, a unique style.”

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