Believe You Can comes to the races with a white bridle. And a diminutive redhaired jockey. And she is owned by a horseman who was once the governor of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
Almost black in color, Believe You Can is a striking filly even without the white triangle that adorns her forehead. Better yet, her visual standing is matched by her talent.
While it was Rachel Alexandra who has made the Kentucky Oaks a famous race in the last few years, it is Believe You Can who romped to a well-received victory in the 2012 running of The Oaks.
Rachel Alexandra left the field 20 lengths in back of her heels when she won the Kentucky Oaks the day before the Kentucky Derby was run in 2009. Two weeks and a day after her coronation in the Kentucky Oaks, Rachel Alexandra was in Baltimore winning the Preakness Stakes over a field of colts.
Believe You Can brought with her to this year’s Kentucky Oaks a small core of people more famous than she will ever be.
Her owner is Brereton Jones, once a lieutenant governor of thoroughbred-crazy Kentucky . . . and later the governor of the commonwealth (as they’ll tell vistors to their horse country) from 1991 to 1995.
Jones moved westward to Kentucky after being the youngest-ever member of the West Virginia House of Delegates in 1964. And then Jones moved again. This time he traveled the smallish distance from the Republican Party to the Democratic Party.
After being appointed to several agencies and organizations in Kentucky by governors Martha Collins and John Y. Brown, Jr., the transplanted West Virginian tossed his hat into the political ring as a candidate for lieutenant governor. He was not shy in telling folks he eventually wanted to be the governor. In 1991, he was elected governor and presided over the winner’s circle presentations at the Kentucky Derby for four years.
Jones and wife, Libby, had been the owners and caretakers of the famous Airdrie Farm in Woodford County since 1972. Airdrie bred and auctioned and raced thoroughbreds.
What better political combination could be found than a one-time Mountaineer from the West Virginia legislature and the squire of a prosperous thoroughbred farm in his adopted state (commonwealth).
Libby Jones did much of the management of Airdrie while husband Brereton was traipsing around Frankfort trying to make political hay.
Airdrie is today a viable part of the equine industry. And a small part of the farm’s recent success has been the consistency of its comely filly, Believe You Can.
In this year’s Kentucky Oaks, Airdrie’s coal-black filly was guided to victory by Anna Rose “Rosie” Napravnik, a strong-willed, strong-handed rider whose strength and forceful ways belie her 5-foot frame.
Rosie has flaming red hair. But her racing abilities quickly became more famous than her tresses.
After getting her jockey’s license in 2005, she moved swiftly upward in the jockey ranks. She was the top money-winner in Maryland in quick order. And then she was top female rider in the country in her second year — earning $6,395,075 and winning 300 races.
She was second in the overall jockey standings at Delaware Park and then became the leading rider at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans.
When Rosie rode in the 2011 Kentucky Oaks, no woman had ever won that race. She was second that year.
When she came into the 2012 Kentucky Oaks, she was aboard Believe You Can. And the afternoon just ahead of the Saturday when I’ll Have Another took The Derby, Rosie became the first female rider to win the Kentucky Oaks.
Not everybody saw beforehand that Rosie was going to make her historic ride this year. Believe You Can paid $29.60 to win, a nice return on a $2 ticket.
Completing the group of diverse personalities and backgrounds of those humans connected with Believe You Can is folksy southwest-based trainer, Larry Jones.
Jones is the tall and wide conditioner who wears a signature white cowboy hat and recognizable smile painted across his face. He once went into a premature retirement after a filly he trained named Eight Belles died on the track after finishing second in a Kentucky Derby.
But Jones was not on the sidelines for long. He returned to help his wife, who is also a trainer of thoroughbred racehorses.
The wide-ranging Airdrie circle that now includes Brereton Jones, Larry Jones, Rosie Napravnik, and her eminence, Believe You Can, has set its aim on the Mother Goose Stakes, fast coming up at Belmont Park.
The Mother Goose will be her fifth start of the year. She has won three of the other four tries. In addition to the Kentucky Oaks there were earlier wins in the Fair Grounds Oaks and the Silverbulletday Stakes.
This Saturday (June 23), Believe You Can and Rosie will likely be tested by Kentucky Oaks runner-up Broadway’s Alibi, with Black-Eyed Susan Stakes winner In Lingerie a slight possibility.
A more likely contender is Bob Baffert-trained Contested, winner of the Eight Belles Stakes and the Acorn Stakes. Contested has won four of her five lifetime starts.
Trainer Jones has set the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic on November 2 at Santa Anita as his ultimate goal for his blackish comet.
“Believe You Can” could be the motto for Rosie, Brereton Jones, Airdrie Farm and Larry Jones. And Brereton Jones could be the first former member of the West Virginia House of Delegates to claim an Eclipse Award for Female Horse of the Year if the precocious Kentucky-bred runs well in New York and then on Breeders’ Cup day.