Forecasting which trainers will garner the majority of the headlines at Saratoga Race Course hasn’t been too difficult a task in recent years. The likes of Chad Brown, Todd Pletcher, Christophe Clement, Bill Mott, Brad Cox and Steve Asmussen have been perennially dominant at the Spa—and that is unlikely to change anytime soon. But the storylines shifted a bit during the summer of 2023 to make room for Jena Antonucci and Linda Rice to take center stage with the power player regulars at the historic track.
Antonucci, who in June became the first woman to train a Triple Crown race winner when she sent out Arcangelo to win the Belmont Stakes, became only the second woman to win Saratoga’s signature event, the Travers. Arcangelo, a son of Hall of Famer and 2016 Travers record-setter Arrogate, won the 154th edition of the Midsummer Derby to establish himself as the leader in the 3-year-old division. With that victory, Antonucci joined Mary Hirsch (in 1938, with Thanksgiving) as the only women to saddle a Travers winner.
“The significance of accomplishing anything in any gender at the top of any sport or industry is a gift,” Antonucci said after the Travers. “It doesn’t come without the team and without every single person on our team. The significance of this is hard to put into words right now. Anyone that wants something bad enough, you just have to work your tail off for it. It doesn’t matter—man, woman, boy, girl—that’s just white noise. If you want it, go fight for it and make it happen for yourself.”
While Antonucci is somewhat of a new name to most racing fans, Linda Rice has long been established as one of Saratoga’s most successful trainers with more than 2,300 wins in a career that began in 1987. In 2009, she became the first woman to win a Saratoga training title. Fourteen years later, Rice was once again atop the Spa leaderboard, sharing the meet title with Chad Brown with 35 wins during this year’s 40-day season. Rice rallied to earn her share of the crown, winning three races on September 3 to put herself in striking position. Then she scooped up two wins on the Labor Day card to forge the tie with Brown.
“They were both really special in their own way,” Rice said of her two times being the leading trainer at Saratoga. “You never take the fun out of the first one. It’s been a great year…it’s been a lot of fun, a great meet.”
Rice has dominated the NYRA circuit since the fall of 2022, earning titles at the past five NYRA meetings at Aqueduct fall, Aqueduct winter, Aqueduct spring, and Belmont spring/summer prior to her 2023 Saratoga championship. She’ll look to make it six in a row this fall at the Belmont at the Big A meeting.
With Antonucci and Rice leading the way, girl power was certainly in full force this summer at Saratoga. And it certainly will continue to be for years to come.