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Zipse At The Track

Ria Antonia to carry on the tradition of girls vs. boys

Ria Antonia BCturn 615 X 400
Photo: Eclipse Sportswire


I was pleased to read in Claire Novak’s recent article in the Blood-Horse that the owner of Ria Antonia, Ron Paolucci, was working on a specific plan for his star filly that included Kentucky Derby preps, against the boys, and likely in New Orleans. He had talked about this plan after her win in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, but I wondered at the time if it was a case of having a post-big win high, or if he was really serious about taking a truly ambitious approach with the large and talented daughter of Rockport Harbor. So now a month later, it’s nice to see that the idea of running the Jeremiah Englehart trained filly against the boys seems like more than just a whim.


As well as female horses have done against their male counterparts in recent years, I cannot blame Paolucci for shooting high. The news also got me thinking about other fillies who had connections daring enough to test their young female stars against males with the belief that they could succeed.

Probably the most successful case of a filly taking on the boys all spring began in the 1988 Santa Anita Derby. Never afraid to accept a challenge with his top horse, trainer D. Wayne Lukas knew his amazon, roan filly, Winning Colors was beginning to peak after a dominating eight-length romp in the Santa Anita Oaks. In Santa Anita’s Derby, she faced a solid field of colts, but off her impressive win in the Oaks she was made a lukewarm 5-2 choice. Those that backed Winning Colors in her first attempt against the boys went home happy when she dominated from gate to wire. The 7 ½-length score over the nice Charlie Whittingham colt, Lively One, was an eye-opening performance that sent her on to Kentucky as one of the favorites. 

Four weeks after her first win against colts, she again led all the way, eventually holding off Forty Niner by a neck to become just the third filly ever to win the Kentucky Derby. Winning Colors followed that up with two more races against the males, including a game third in a Preakness, before tiring badly in the Belmont Stakes. Her four consecutive races against the males, with two important wins, remains the gold standard of what a talented young filly could do on the Triple Crown trail, although, another filly had a similar run eight years earlier.

Unlike Winning Colors, Genuine Risk did not win in her first try against the boys. Sent off at  8-1 in the Wood Memorial, the chestnut daughter of Exclusive Native ran a game third, beaten by 1 ½ lengths against some of the best young males in the country. Believing that she was not 100% cranked up for that one, trainer Leroy Jolley saw enough in that losing effort to run his previously undefeated filly in the Run for the Roses in her next start. His faith in his filly paid off handsomely when the 13-1 shot held off the late charge of Rumbo to win the 1980 Kentucky Derby by a length. 

Fresh off her win at Churchill Downs, Genuine Risk proved that she was no fluke by running an infamous second in the Preakness Stakes. Many thought she should have been placed first after Angel Cordero Jr., the rider of the winner, Codex, carried the filly way out on the far turn. She would follow that up with another fine performance when a game second to Temperence Hill in the twelve furlong Belmont Stakes. 

While both Genuine Risk and Winning Colors found great success in the Kentucky Derby after prepping against the boys, perhaps no filly was more impressive in winning against males before the First Saturday in May than Althea. A champion at two, the daughter of Alydar was no stranger at running against the boys. As a juvenile in 1983, she had won two-of-three meetings against males, including an easy score in the Del Mar Futurity. After a shocking loss in the Fantasy, perhaps only D. Wayne Lukas would have wheeled her back one week later in the Arkansas Derby, but that is exactly what the fearless former basketball coach did.


In a stunning display of front running prowess, the talented filly dominated a strong field of males, including Gate Dancer and Pine Circle, by seven lengths in 1:46 ?. While Gate Dancer and Pine Circle would go on to win the Preakness, and finish second in the Belmont respectively, Althea faded badly as the Kentucky Derby favorite.

The last filly I can recall winning a major Kentucky Derby prep was when Serena's Song, also for Lukas, won the 1995 Spiral Stakes. In recent years, fillies that have run well in Triple Crown races, Rachel Alexandra (1st-Preakness), Rags for Riches (1st-Belmont Stakes), and Eight Belles (2nd-Kentucky Derby), all came into those respective races previously untested against the males. This all makes the plan for Ria Antonia all the more intriguing. I wish her well. 


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Older Comments about Ria Antonia to carry on the tradition of girls vs. boys...

Anne you will not have to worry about her. These Eric Guilliot wannabees just talked all through the winter to get print. I thought they were doing it to put her in the limelight and increase her value. I think they were trying to sell a piece or all of her. When nobody bit,they withdrew their plans to face the boys and are now pointing to the filly Stake. You are correct,they did not take the high road after the race. But as Bill Parcells always says. You are who you are.
After the interview with her owners and connections following the BC I was completely turned off. Tiger was on lead. Ria didn't have to take such a close path. Just like in basketball, she drew a foul if indeed there was one. I can't wish her well except for good health which I hope they all are.
My thoughts are she will be a big flop against both sexes. I thought running against males was a fun idea. Go out fighting.
Seems like they were planning to throw her in the ocean; and see if she sinks or swims. No problem with it, but rather see her against her own sex. She only has one big win, so I don't think it particularly means she is a viable contender against males.
Publicity stunt, yes, but while they are throwing her to the dogs, they are throwing her to the small ones. Got to appreciate that they're at least going about it the best way,'
A reason i hate for fillies to run against the boys. They should put in a pre requisite. If you run against the boys,you must stay within the division til the Derby. Afilly always has a fall back plan B.She can then riun against her sex in major Stakes. A Derby win due to its popularity with the Breeders ,is easily much more important for a clot than a filly to win it. If you are attempting to bump off one of the contenders.Then you should not be rewarded for failure,by allowing them to compete in Stakes.
Sullivan,is and always was a Publicity stunt.This is their 15 minutes in fame. If you think you have the goods,go for it. Just stop the publicity nonsense.
Disappointing. Was looking forward to seeing her attempt it.
Ria Antonia owner says on Twitter that she will run against fillies in the Rachel Alexandra, rather than boys in the Risen Star, for her seasonal debut.
I'm sure I will get a lot of negative comment for this statement, but I truly believe that the point system was done to make it extremely difficult or impossible for a filly to win the Derby or further the TC. In the beginning when the point system was announced, I thought this would be corrected in the next application. The fact that it wasn't, makes me believe it was intentional. The breeding monies are too great frankly to waste on a filly.
  • ekindy · I don't think it's that hard at all. Looking at last year's point standings, it's obvious that 50 point will easily qualify you for the Oaks, and 30 points got you comfortably into the Derby field, and even 20 is a strong possibility. That means if you win the March Oaks Prep race for 50 points, even if you had no points going in, you are a lock for the Oaks. Even a second place finish gives you 30 points, and if you earned 20 in prior races, you are still a lock. That means you can go against the boys in April, and a second place finish will make you a lock to qualify, while a third place finish leaves at least a strong possibility that you will qualify. And if you get no points, you still have your 50+ Oaks points to get you into that race. Now I am not saying I am for fillies running against the boys at this stage of their careers, in fact I am not, but mathematically there is room for a really good filly to work the points system. You don't have to be the top points earner to be a leading contender in the final race, you just have to qualify. · 1436 days ago
well joco11, it takes just a little more out of a horse to win the race than to finish 16th or 19th . you answered your own question, they finished up the track.
As a race fan i love seeing the girls take on the boys. But as a breeder myself. its not a good buisness move. The 3 fillys who have won the derby have failed miserably as brrodmares. And we all remember Eight Belles. Rumor has it that Genuine Risk did nothing but lay down for the 3 days following the derby. I personally think the Derby distance is just too much stress on the girls. Lets leave the battle of the sexes to humans and let these ladies bring us great memories for years to come in they're offspring.
  • · How can you conclude based on a sample size of 3 mares that winning the Kentucky Derby makes for a poor broodmare career? What about fillies that ran up the track in the Derby, like Serena's Song and Althea, who turned out to be stellar broodmares? And how do you explain all the European fillies who run in 10f and 12f races as three year olds? Only in racing is such human sexism conferred like this on animal athletes. They aren't "girls" or "ladies," they're 1000 lb. animals bred and trained to be physically able to run these races. · 1437 days ago
Genuine Risk may have laid down for three days after the Derby, but she got up and ran second in both the Preakness and Belmont. A better finish in the TC than many colts have done. That she was not a good broodmare just reinforces the old adage that good race mares do not make good broodmares. There are many exceptions to this statement of course.
I know many in the industry that are against this.Buck earlier made a valid point regarding the newly formed point system. It was not that outside the box. On one hand,some may take it as a negative,but all these guys are doing is protecting their investments into the industry.You mentioned Genuine Risk ,she was an All time great.My friend JJ Toner trains Recepta who ran awesome on the turf,and is bred impeccably for the distance.What if they woke up tommorrow and said,we are going to the Derby. Then those sentiments were followed by multiple connections.Anne Shaw,brought up the point.This filly did not even win the BC,she got the trophy through the back door.Was she the best that day,absolutely yes. But she did not win. For those that want to use the close finish as validation of how good she is.Then in the HOTY honors,WTC is a slam dunk. He lost by a closer margin to a much better field.I know i am talking apples and oranges,but the point is there. The game to day has become a results game,Accomplishments are revered more than fast race horses . Ria is just not fast enough.
tmallios1, i agree 100% . it does sound like a publicity stunt. there have been many fillies with far better credentials come up short on the road to the derby. i guess time will tell.
gojro9,the reasons you bring up are very valid. I to have heard some and moe stories. Also from a buisiness standpoint.Owners pay alot for these colts at the sales.A win in the Derby is a life changer for many of them.I know the anti point is that to beat the be the best,you gotta beat the best(thanks Ric Flair). I was always against it in the past,because the fillies had a free pass into the race.They never had to qualify,so long as they had the money earnings. I have no problem now with the point systems.My point towards Ria,i just don't think she is good enough. If they are serious about this.Then commit to all of the 3yo colt races,but if she lays an egg in her first attempt.They will go back to their PLAN A.That is try to qualify for the Oaks. Make a commitment now that under no circumstance will you run in the Oaks.It is the Derby or the highway. Doubt they would do that.Always great to open your mouth,especially when the alternative is there. Like i said,smells of a publicity stunt.
It had been 85 years since a filly had won the Preakness before Rachel.
With the point system now in place, the deliberation of having a filly in the Derby would seem to be more of a rarity. If the connections want their filly to run on the first Saturday in May, they will have to commit to a Derb prep race, which will most often have colts. Winning Colors would have been a qualifier nonetheless, with her Santa Anita Derby win. Maybe a filly will win the Derby again, but, prior to Genuine Risk in 1980, there had been a 65 year dry spell. I believe when Rags To Riches won the Belmont, there was a 95 year drought. Not sure of the success prior to Rachel Alexandra in the Preakness, but the odds seem rather large, of this happening anytime soon.
I still remember Winning Colors Santa Anita Derby like it was yesterday. She made mince meat outta that field.
If it ain't Ria A in '14 I still think the next Filly that wins is on the nearby horizon. Between the brilliant careers of Rachel, Rags, Zenyatta, etc. I think a filly keeps the momentum going because its bound to happen soon

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Meet Brian Zipse 

Brian has been a passionate fan of horse racing his entire life. Taken to the races at a very young age, he has been lucky enough to see all the greats in person from Secretariat, Forego, and Ruffian through Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta, and American Pharoah. Before coming to the Nation, Brian displayed his love for the sport through the development of his horse racing website, which quickly became one of the most popular blogs in the game. 

The Editor of Horse Racing Nation from 2010-2017, Brian authored a daily column as Zipse at the Track, or ZATT for short, and added his editorial flare to the overall content of the website. Now a Senior Writer for HRN, Brian continues to contribute his thoughts on racing, as well as co-hosting the popular racing show, HorseCenter. A big supporter of thoroughbred aftercare, he serves as the President of The Exceller Fund.

Brian's work has also been published on several leading industry sites. He has consulted for leading contest site Derby Wars, is both a Hall of Fame and NTRA poll voter, and is a Vox Populi committee member. 

A horse owner and graduate of DePaul University, Brian lives just outside of Louisville with his wife Candice and daughter Kendra.


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