Jeremiah Englehart, second from left, in the winner's circle after Ria Antonia's victory in the 2013 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. (All photos courtesy of Eclipse Sportswire)
Trainer Jeremiah Englehart knows it takes a special filly to compete against males on the road to the Kentucky Derby.
He believes he has a filly up to that challenge in Ria Antonia.
Englehart grew up with horse racing – both of his parents are trainers – and he reached the pinnacle of the sport he loves when Ria Antonia won the 2013 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies in November at Santa Anita Park.
“Growing up in the business as a kid, watching those races on TV and kind of looking up to everybody that gets there every year, it was the thrill of a lifetime,” said Englehart, who assisted his father, Chris, before working with trainers Mike Husion and Ken McPeek.
RIA ANTONIA AFTER JUVENILE FILLIES WIN
Photos courtesy of Eclipse Sportswire
Ria Antonia is a finalist for the Eclipse Award as outstanding 2-year-old filly and recently recorded her first published workout in preparation for her 3-year-old season. Englehart said the first target for Ria Antonia, a robust Rockport Harbor filly, will be the Risen Star Stakes on Feb. 22 at Fair Grounds.
The Risen Star serves as Fair Grounds final prep race for the Louisiana Derby. Englehart said the backup plan would be the Rachel Alexandra Stakes for 3-year-old fillies on the same card.
Timing was a key factor in pointing to the Fair Grounds races that weekend, which should allow Ria Antonia to have two starts before either the Kentucky Derby or the Kentucky Oaks.
“We gave her approximately a month off at Patty Hogan Farm [Hogan Equine] in New Jersey and started back training,” said Englehart, who live in Farmington, N.Y. with his wife, Robin, and their four children Raelyn, C.J., Anna and Eli.
“She had her first breeze back at Belmont [on Jan 5], a nice, easy three-eighths for her that ended up being :36 2/5. Then we vanned her to Fair Grounds, where she resumed training a few days ago and she seems to be doing just fine.”
Only four fillies since 1924 have won a U.S. Triple Crown race – Genuine Risk (Kentucky Derby, 1980), Winning Colors (Kentucky Derby, 1988), Rags to Riches (Belmont Stakes, 2007), Rachel Alexandra (Preakness, 2009) – but female horses defeating males is not uncommon in the U.S. and is a regular occurrence in European racing. It just takes the right one, which Englehart and co-owners Ron Paolucci and Chris Dunn believe they have in Ria Antonia.
“We wanted to see if it was possible to run against the boys,” said Englehart, 37. “She’s a big filly and doesn’t really act like a filly. I’m confident that she can have success against the boys. If the Risen Star is our first race, then we’ll see what we’ve got. We definitely think our plan will bring out the best of her ability.”
Englehart welcomed Ria Antonia to his barn eight days before she ran in the Grade 1 Frizette Stakes. She was purchased privately from owner Kyle Griffith and trainer Ricky Griffith, who plucked her out of the 2012 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky fall yearling sale for $9,000.
Englehart said Paolucci was extremely confident she would emerge as a Breeders’ Cup contender when switched to dirt. She made her first three starts on the synthetic Polytrack surface at Woodbine.
“When Ron brought her to my attention, her form, she looked okay. I wasn’t thinking that she was going to be a Breeders’ Cup filly at first,” Englehart said. “I know Ron was thinking that she would be.”
After a fifth-place finish in the Frizette, Ria Antonia delivered a career-best performance in the Juvenile Fillies. Hampered in deep stretch when interfered with by Grade 1 winner She’s a Tiger, Ria Antonia crossed the finish line just behind that rival but was elevated to the victory via disqualification.
Photos courtesy of Eclipse Sportswire
“She’s a nice fully to be around. She’s laid-back but there are times when she likes to play around a little bit and she’ll nip at you. But overall, she has a real nice personality; she’s fun to be around,” Englehart said.
“On the track, she’s all business. She’ll pull from start to finish; she loves to train. I don’t need to work her really with any company because she does it all herself. Elizabeth Dobles, who is my assistant and also her exercise rider, it’s just push-button for her. It’s kind of hard to slow her down, but she very professional.”
Next on the agenda for Englehart is a trip to Gulfstream Park for the Eclipse Awards on Saturday night. Ria Antonia, She’s a Tiger and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf winner Chriselliam are the finalists for the juvenile filly division title.
Englehart made reservations and picked out a tuxedo for the event before he saw a promotion that listed the Eclipse Awards as black-tie optional. Worried that he might be the only trainer decked out in a tux, Englehart texted Eclipse Awards regular Todd Pletcher, who assured him he made the right call.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” said Englehart, a Hershey, Pa. native who cut his teeth at smaller tracks like Finger Lakes and Penn National Race Course. “It’s kind of surreal.
“I remember when my dad and I used to ship horses down from Finger Lakes and I still look up to everybody there in New York. … I’ve always looked up to the people that have been able to continue stables in New York for such a long time. I just always thought that was the pinnacle of racing, and to be mentioned or have a horse that’s mentioned among the best 2-year-old fillies in the country, win or lose, is a great honor for me.”
What type of music do you listen to? It depends on my mood. If I’m going to play basketball, I’m listening to Eminen and a little bit of Jay-Z. I’m also a country fan as well if you can believe it. I like Gary Allan and George Straight. I’m with the kids to, I find myself listening to the kids’ songs, too.
Favorite Movie? “Braveheart”
What do you drive? It’s a 2008 Buick Enclave, soccer mom’s car.
Do you follow any other sports or teams? I played football in High School and a little bit in college. I’m a big New York Giants fan; I love watching the Giants every weekend. Basketball, I’m a Knicks fan and Syracuse Orange fan and baseball, I’m a Mets fan. I played football, basketball and baseball growing up in school.
Most talented horse you’ve ever seen? Ria, to me, and for as little as I’ve worked with her, she has a lot of talent that I’m hoping will continue in her career. Being around Take Charge Lady and Repent was kind of special to me. But as a kid growing up, my dad had a sprinter who was named Frattare after my grandmother’s maiden name and her family. To me, he was just raw speed. I used to get a kick out of watching him and old tapes of him. I guess it would be between Frattare, Take Charge Lady and Repent. It’s hard for me to distinguish though, because I also trained a horse who took me to Hong Kong this winter, King Kreesa.
Best Race you’ve ever seen? My brother Jesse was always a Sunday Silence fan; I was Easy Goer. Probably the Derby and the Preakness, between those two. Carson Hollow and You was my first summer I spent up at Saratoga. I remember their stretch run like it was yesterday. There was another one that I can’t remember but I know I came out on the losing end of that, too.
The 2013 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies was probably a pretty good one, too … That just shows you how much of a fan of the sport I am that was probably going to be third or fourth.