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Ria Antonia's owner sees filly as more than a Preakness long shot

Ria Antonia, a 17-hand-tall, dark brown beauty by Beer Baroness and Rockport Harbor, gallops in the rain under exercise rider Maurice Sanchez on Friday as she prepares to take on the boys.
Ria Antonia, a 17-hand-tall, dark brown beauty by Beer Baroness and Rockport Harbor, gallops in the rain under exercise rider Maurice Sanchez on Friday as she prepares to take on the boys.
Published May 17, 2014

Ron Paolucci believes you're entitled to your opinion, but he has plenty of ways to refute the overwhelming sentiment that his 30-1 filly, Ria Antonia, will be overmatched running with the colts in today's Preakness Stakes.

The horse's co-owner will point to the race sheet, which says his horse is the second-highest earner of the Preakness entrants behind Kentucky Derby winner California Chrome, thanks to a November win at the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies.

He'll boast that he and his filly don't mind their long odds, because neither horse nor owner cares much about respect.

But coming off a sixth place in the Kentucky Oaks, and with just one finish in the money since the Breeders' Cup on Ria Antonia's resume, Paolucci must contend with a racing public that believes his $30,000 entrance fee is throwing good money after bad.

At Wednesday's draw, he was defiant when asked if his bid for Ria Antonia to become the sixth filly to win the Preakness in 54 tries is misguided. "Is there any other Grade 1 Stakes-winning horses in here besides California Chrome?" asked Paolucci, who co-owns the horse with Christopher Dunn. "Does she belong? I mean, do the rest of them belong? She absolutely belongs. Absolutely."

Trainer Tom Amoss, who began working with the horse after its Oaks run under Bob Baffert, said Paolucci's enthusiasm is typical: "Ron is no different than a lot of owners, in that they're very proud of their horse, no different than a parent would be proud of their child. He has every right to be. Ria won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. In that same vein, he wants everyone else to see what he sees in her. … Quite frankly, she's a nice little filly."

And what if he's right?

"That's the beauty of horse racing," Amoss said. "That's the beauty of sports. To bring it a little closer to home, I believe it was Joe Namath back in 1969 who predicted the defeat of the Baltimore Colts, much to everyone's dismay, and that's the way (it happened). Maybe Ron is the modern-day Joe Namath."

The race's longest shot, Ria Antonia's entrance is the product of Paolucci's ambition.

He began dreaming of beating the boys after the Breeders' Cup win, when at 32-1, she was bumped down the stretch by She's a Tiger. An official review disqualified She's a Tiger, and Ria Antonia was placed first. He said the colts typically run fast early and slow late, while fillies do the opposite. Paolucci said the colts' races are more suited to Ria Antonia's steady running style.

"An objective analysis of her chances to win the Preakness would say she has a substantially less chance to win the Preakness than any other horse in the race," NBC Sports analyst Randy Moss said. "She has never run a race yet in her career that is fast enough to even approach hitting the board in the Preakness."

Moss said many owners would have instead run Ria Antonia in Friday's Black Eyed Susan, an all-filly race like the Oaks. Untapable won the Oaks in a near-record time, and many thought she would be the filly to enter the Preakness.

"Most handicappers believe Ria Antonia has absolutely no chance to win the Preakness," Moss said. "But having said that, five years ago, the same handicappers would have told you Mine That Bird had no chance to win the Kentucky Derby. That's why people that have good horses in this business continue to dream, and take what on paper might look like a pie-in-the-sky long shot."