Ria Antonia, Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, 2nd November 2013
Trained by Jeremiah Englehart, Sire: Rockport Harbor. Dam: Beer Baroness
Ron Paolucci, a 44-year-old native of Akron, Ohio – “Home of Lebron James,” he says proudly – fell in love with racing at an early age. “I started going with my dad and my grandfather,” he said. “Thistle Downs in the afternoon; Waterford Park at night. For as long as I can remember. An hour’s drive. For a horseplayer, that’s not long.”
Make no mistake about it. Yes, he’s an owner of 55 to 60 Thoroughbreds under the name of Loooch Racing Stable, but he is one serious horseplayer. “I play them with two fists,” he said.
By doing so, he watches and bets on lots of horses at a lot of racetracks. And when he saw Ria Antonia make her debut at Woodbine, he was impressed with the two-year-old filly. “I thought it was interesting to start her in a stakes race first time out,” he said. “Seven furlongs. Then maiden special weights against the boys. Then she worked :46.1 on the Woodbine dirt training track.”
His partner, Chris Wright, was in. A 38-year-old native of East Greenbush, N.Y., he began following racing at Saratoga, just a half hour away. Wright worked on Wall Street before going into robotic sales for Mako Surgical. The Davie, Florida, company makes robots which assist doctors doing orthopedic knee and hip replacements. He met Paolucci through a mutual friend. “Ron offered me half of Ria Antonia,” he said. “He thought she would improve on dirt. It took about two weeks to close the deal.”
Once the deal was done, Paolucci hatched a plan with his partner and his trainer Jeremiah Englehart. “My plan all along was to get her out of Woodbine; get her down to New York; put her in blinkers; run in the Frizette, and then run in the Breeders’ Cup,” Paolucci said. “She’s a huge filly. She’s almost 17 hands. She’s got a big, long stride. I thought she would move up on two turns.”
The Grade 1 Frizette at Belmont Park was one-turn, and Ria Antonio finished fifth by six lengths. This did nothing to deter Paolucci from entering her in the Breeders’ Cup. “He was adamant about going to the Breeders’ Cup,” Wright said.
Smart man. Ria Antonia closed ground resolutely in the stretch trying to catch front-running She’s a Tiger. They flashed past the finish line together. “I actually thought we got the bob,” Paolucci said. “Everyone around me said we lost. I was so ecstatic with the way she ran, it didn’t matter if she got up. I was right about her.”
But he was wrong about the finish. The photo revealed She’s a Tiger had won. But Rio Antonia’s rider, Javier Castellano, claimed four against the winner, who was ridden by Gary Stevens. After what seemed like hours, the stewards disqualified She’s a Tiger, placing Ria Antonia first. Paolucci got a text message from a friend of She’s a Tiger’s owners. “She said the owners were distraught, but they believed it was the right decision,” he said. “Gary Stevens told me the same thing the next day. Very classy.”