As always, it's an intriguing scenario when a filly is matched against "the boys." Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra -- very familiar to fans of Fair Grounds -- did it when she parlayed her 2009 Fair Grounds Oaks win to Grade 1 scores in the Kentucky Oaks and then on against male rivals in the Preakness, Haskell Invitational and Woodward later that year.
On February 22, guests of the Crescent City oval and fans of the Fair Grounds simulcast signal are on a course to witness that female-versus-male challenge again when Loooch Racing Stable et al.'s Ria Antonia is set to meet Ken and Sarah Ramsey's dominating Lecomte hero Vicar's in Trouble and others in Fair Grounds' Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes on Louisiana Derby Preview Day.
Ria Antonia has not raced since her adjudged victory in Santa Anita's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies last November 2, but after arriving in New Orleans January 11, the well-made daughter of Rockport Harbor breezed a half-mile in :49 3/5 January 18 and will breeze four furlongs once again Saturday.
"She loves it here," trainer Jeremiah Englehart's assistant Elizabeth Dobles said during training hours Friday morning.
Dobles, a 23-year-old miss from the Finger Lakes area of New York State, has been getting on Ria Antonia and handling her since she came to Englehart's barn last fall.
"The best day of training we've had here so far was yesterday," she added, "and today was just as good. She's on a schedule where we breeze her once a week and then walk, jog and gallop successively in the days after her works.
"'Ria' was just an average filly when she came to us," Dobles said, "but about a week before the (October 5) Frizette at Aqueduct last fall (where she finished fifth) she started to show us what kind of filly we had. Then we went out to California for the Breeders' Cup and she ran a very good race there (finishing an impeded second by a nose before being awarded the victory.)
"She kind of takes to anything," Dobles said when asked if the unusually cold weather in New Orleans lately had affected the filly. "It was warm in California when we went there last fall and since it's gotten so cold here at Fair Grounds lately she enjoys that, too.
"Two weeks after California we gave her about 30 days off in Florida," Dobles said. "I went to Hong Kong with our horse King Kreesa (for Sha Tin's Hong Kong Mile) but I got back with 'Ria' at Belmont and we breezed her three-eighths there (:36 3/5 January 5) before coming down here.
"She's really very fresh right now," Dobles said, "but she's usually a laid back kind of filly. When she first goes out on the track she starts playing a little bit, but once she really starts going she's all business."
"I've been working for Jeremiah for four years, now. When I first started exercising horses I thought I wanted to be a jockey, but now I realize I'd much rather be an assistant working with the horses and communicating with them. It doesn't matter to me whether they are worth $4,000 or $4 million. I treat them all the same, but naturally there's a lot more pressure with a horse like her."
"Jeremiah will be coming down here February 8," Dobles concluded.