Ria Antonia head to the track for an early morning workout at… (Lloyd Fox, Baltimore Sun )
Ron Paolucci believes you're entitled to your opinion, but he has plenty of ways to refute the overwhelming sentiment that his 30-1 long shot filly Ria Antonia will be overmatched running with the colts in Saturday's 139th 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 finish 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 Preakness 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 T. 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 Kentucky Oaks run under Bob Baffert, said Paolucci's enthusiasm for his horse 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," Amoss said. "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 biggest long shot, Ria Antonia's entrance into the race 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.
The horse's connections believe. But that might be where the belief ends, said NBC Sports analyst Randy Moss.
"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," 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 Kentucky Oaks. Untapable won the Oaks in a near-record time, and many thought she would be the filly to enter the Preakness, but she didn't make the trip to Baltimore.
"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."
Ria Antonia, a 17-hand tall, dark brown beauty by Beer Baroness and Rockport Harbor flew in from Kentucky on Wednesday afternoon and trotted off a horse hauler at Pimlico into the early-evening mist looking every bit the part of Preakness contender.
She ran Thursday morning without issue and is on the same training plan that Amoss ran in 2013, when Mylute went off at nearly 11-1 odds and finished third. Amoss, who arrives in Baltimore Friday, said the same team is working with Ria Antonia as did with Mylute.
"This will be the third horse I run in the Preakness, and I find Pimlico's racetrack is a very adaptable racetrack for my horses," Amoss said. "I don't think there's any secret formula for getting used to the Pimlico surface."
After Mike Smith rode the filly to sixth in the Kentucky Oaks, Calvin Borel — who rode Rachel Alexandra to the last Preakness win by a filly in 2009 — was given the mount for Preakness. Paolucci said that Borel's wait-and-see approach might be tweaked to fit Ria Antonia, who will run from the No. 6 post.
"My filly has a lot of natural speed," Paolucci said. "We're going to tell Calvin and ask him not to be too far off the pace."
Amoss said it's hard for such things to go as planned, but racing's unpredictability is precisely why they're taking the chance running the Preakness.
"The most important things [to me are] we're running a healthy horse, a sound horse and a horse that's on her game," Amoss said. "All those things are accurate statements about Ria. … If it's not [California Chrome's] day, I'll see the race as having any number of possibilities for an outcome, and Ria is any one of those possibilities."