She's a big racehorse, almost 17 hands tall, and Ria Antonia means business when she charges down the stretch.
The winner of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I) doesn't know she's competing against girls, just knows she wants to beat other runners, owner Ron Paolucci said. That's one of the reasons he's willing to take a shot with her later this month, when she heads down to Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots on the road to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I).
"When they run a race, most great horses leave it out on the track, and this filly brings it every time," Paolucci said. "When she works, she works hard. When she runs, she runs hard.
"My plan is to run in the Risen Star (gr. II) and Louisiana Derby (gr. II), or maybe the prep races at Oaklawn as a backup plan. She can train where the weather is nice and cool, horses like that. Plus, I think she's going to love that long stretch at Fair Grounds. And I already have 25 other horses down there."
Only two fillies have ever won the Louisiana Derby; Carolyn A in 1947 and Grecian Princess in 1964. Maybe, on the 50th anniversary of the latter score, Ria Antonia can run her way into the record books.
"She just wants to relax and make a long run at them," Paolucci said of his contender's running style. "She's such a big filly, you can't start her and stop her. In the Juvenile Fillies, she started about halfway down the backside and made about a three-quarters of a mile sustained run. Not many fillies can do that, that's what makes her a good Derby candidate. As long as you don't stop her, because she's so big, once you let her roll, she's going to come running."
The 1 1/16-mile Juvenile Fillies was timed in 1:43.02 at Santa Anita Park, while males in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I) won by New Year's Day went the same distance in 1:43.52. A few weeks later at Aqueduct Racetrack, Stopchargingmaria ran the 1 1/8-mile Demoiselle Stakes (gr. II) for 2-year-old fillies in 1:52.62, while Honor Code won the Remsen going that far in 1:52.92.
"Basically, every prep race so far, the girls have gone faster than the boys," Paolucci said. "To me, there are no boys faster than She's a Tiger, Artemis Agrotera, Sweet Reason, and Ria Antonia. My filly is big, she's still growing, and the 1 1/4-mile (Kentucky Derby) distance, with the kind of fractions they run up front, the faster they go the better she's going to be."
When Paolucci and partner Chris Dunn sent the rangy filly to the Breeders' Cup off a fifth in the Frizette Stakes (gr. I) for trainer Jeremiah Englehart, people thought they were crazy. Her three starts prior to the off-the-board finish came on the Woodbine Polytrack, where she had only a maiden win.
Even after the daughter of Rockport Harbor closed with determined strides and fought back against the bumping of She's a Tiger, resulting in a DQ and victory for Ria Antonia at odds of 32-1, some doubt the prudence of sending her up against the boys.
"People call me crazy," Paolucci said. "I bought a 2-year-old filly who had never won on dirt and took her to the Frizette. I'm a man with a plan. I knew the one-turn mile wasn't going to be her best distance; I wanted to get her two turns and put blinkers on her. But I only got her to New York with six days before the race, so we couldn't have make any adjustments. She's still learning; you don't want to do too much too fast when they're young, you want to give them time to figure it out."
Ria Antonia figured it out in the Breeders' Cup, when she ran the fastest Ragozin number—a 10—out of the 10 fillies and 13 colts in both Juvenile races.
"I'm a big Ragozin guy, and she ran the fastest rag number by a point and a half," her owner said. "She's a Tiger ran 11 3/4, the boys ran 13s."
While 27-year-old trainer Englehart is in Hong Kong with King Kreesa to run in the Dec. 8 Longines Hong Kong Mile (HK-I) at Sha Tin Racecourse, assistant Elizabeth Dobles will oversee Ria Antonia's return to the track in New York this weekend after a brief freshening.
"She's going to be at Aqueduct, the plan is to get her over there Saturday or Sunday and then around the 20th she'll head down to Fair Grounds," Paolucci said. "She's still got to come out of her prep races in good shape and she's still got to show she can beat the boys and earn her way into the Kentucky Derby field.
"But until I see something that shows me that the boys are better than the girls this year, until somebody proves to me they can run a better number, she's by far the fastest horse going two turns on dirt so far this year. I want to run her where I believe she has the best chance to excel."