Adjacent from the Oklahoma Training Track, nestled under trees and between the residential areas of Fifth Avenue and Caroline Street, the Oklahoma Annex easily remains concealed. (Editor's note: Originally published in Aug. 10 issue of The Saratoga Special.)
Peaceful and unassuming, the Annex always seems quietly busy. Horses go through their normal routines, cross Fifth Avenue to train, graze on a large spread of grass, make good use of the jogging ring out back and enjoy the seclusion without the usual hustle and bustle of the other parts of the track.
Jena Antonucci's 12-member Saratoga string is bedded down in the Annex, which used to be home to the steeplechase strings of Hall of Famers Mikey Smithwick, Burley Cocks, Mickey Walsh, Jonathan Sheppard and others such as Paul Fout and Tom Voss. All-timer Zaccio lived in the Annex, so did Flatterer and Cafe Prince.
Based out of Florida and New York year-round, Antonucci's training philosophy is to have a barn full of happy horses and to place them in an environment conducive for success.
"My position has always been for us to foster goodwill and to do as well as we can with what comes through our hands, and try and maximize as much as you can from each athlete," Antonucci said. "And their limit is going to be their athletic ability. My job is to try and find that balance and pull that out of them."
Antonucci said she and her team work with every horse as an individual and build a training program personalized to each, whether that means a gallop on the main track or a jog up and down the hill behind the Oklahoma training track.
"It's actually a constant joke that we have. I'm like, how did I end up with so many quirky horses? But every one of them has such a different personality," she said. "Potentially can get a little nervy here and there and be funny. Forever For Always can moonwalk in her stall. Lilikoi begs for mints, Said No One Ever begs for mints. I mean they all have so much personality, and I don't know if that is just also our program because we promote it, to hear them as much as we can. No horse in the barn is similar, they're all so, so different."
Antonucci welcomed The Special's Annise Montplaisir last week to meet each member of the string.
Lilikoi: Four-year-old filly by Freud out of Corredor's Wind, by El Corredor, is 0-for-19 but her trainer isn't giving up. "She's a New York-bred, she's a homebred of mine. I had actually owned her dam (Corredor's Wind) and I was lucky enough to train the whole family. She's a lifer for me. Hopefully we continue on having a good career with her, and we'd like to have her long term as a broodmare. She's been my perpetual maiden though, she's been second six times in her career, so she's been a little frustrating in that sense. We'll stay patient with her. The whole family seems to run a little more when they're older. The dam was unraced, but the three brothers I trained and (Lilikoi). She was the last foal from the mare, the mare's no longer with us. So she's the only girlie, and her brothers were all runners. Everyone's earned over $100,000. Her oldest brother (Manchurian High) is graded stakes-(placed). She's a lifer and she's spoiled rotten."
Doctor J Dub: Sixth in an optional claimer July 27, Antonucci wheeled him back five days later and the 6-year-old Sharp Humor gelding finished second in a similar race going 5 1/2 furlongs. "He's just really happy. I know it sounds cliché, but he's out in front of his stall, he's dappled from head to tail, he's just in a really good mental space. The experiment doing the mile (June 26 at Gulfstream) actually helped him a little bit. He took a breath, lengthened his stride a little bit and got a little bit more confident in his own skin. Even though he got beat, it was just a different scenario for him and broke the monotony. More than anything we're just trying to keep him happy, train him down on the grass hill and try to find a happy place for him."
Likeagirl: The 3-year-old Cat Thief filly finished fifth in a Penn National allowance July 28. "She's a homebred of the owners (Steven Langsam and Eugene Kurzrok), and she's actually a Pennsylvania-bred, but she'll either run 3-year-olds on the grass, fillies, or we may try to find something for her in Pennsylvania."
Forever For Always: Fourth in a turf allowance Sunday, the 6-year-old mare by Frost Giant is a two-time winner. "A half to Likeagirl. We always call her redhead in a black dress. She's so sassy. Her sister's a full chestnut, they actually have similar heads and markings. Her sister's a sweetheart and she's very sassy. She's allowance, just borders allowance. We'd like to try and get her into a stake if we could. Always a hard-trying mare. She's a cool mare."
Said No One Ever: Pawing and staring at his trainer while she talks, the 4-year-old Justenuffhumor gelding won a waiver maiden claiming race in April at Aqueduct and was fifth for a $40,000 tag July 14 at Belmont. "Another New York-bred. We seem to have a lot of grass New York-breds. I'm not sure how that happened, but it did. He's actually a homebred of mine that broke his maiden off a layoff at Belmont. He's spoiled as well. He'll run back somewhere in a New York-bred allowance or non-two, 35 or 40 on the grass. Very spoiled."
Time Will Tell: The maiden 3-year-old colt is by Malibu Moon. "He's actually come back up from Florida. I'm undecided where we're going to go yet with him. We may try some grass with him or go back to dirt."
Monty: "Our super pony is in the next stall, the most important horse in the barn. He's actually new to us, but he's a retired Thoroughbred that's now a pony. We call him Monty - Montana. I flipped his tattoo and we're not 100 percent the tattoo is him, we're still working on making sure who he is before I put it on the street who he was. Monty the Super Pony works."
Potentially: Sixth in a maiden special Aug. 1 and seventh in a maiden claimer a week later, the 3-year-old New York-bred colt by Scat Daddy colt is co-owned by Antonucci and New Phoenix Stable. "A little black homebred, he's just maturing and figuring his job out. He's a grass horse. We're in between maiden special weight New York-breds on the grass or 40s. He's a little immature."
Party Paradise: The 2-year-old Desert Party colt finished ninth in his debut Sunday in a 6-furlong maiden on the dirt. "A New York-bred dirt horse, we call him Shorty. He's a little guy. He doesn't know he's little, so we don't tell him. It's not the size of the dog, but the size of the flight in the dog. He's very sassy, he's a pretty naughty pony. He's just cocky, he definitely has a Napoleon complex. That's fine, he's got a lot of fight in him."
Remsenburg: The unraced 2-year-old colt is from the first crop of former New York stallion Simmard, who stood 2016 at Mulholland Springs in Lexington, Ky. "He's another New York-bred. He'll be a two-turn grass horse. He's out of (the Distinctive Pro mare) Princess Romanza. He'll be probably near the end of the meet just because he's a two-turn. He's just needs more fitness still, just not there yet, but we're getting there. If he's ready beforehand, he'll run. Big, stretchy 2-year-old grass-looking horse. Just takes a little time to get them together."
Itsthemoney: Winless in five starts, the 3-year-old filly by Langfuhr is out of Eleni's Hope, by Strong Hope. "She's a New York-bred filly that's a homebred of the owners (CR Thoroughbreds). She ran a really good race down at Belmont (fourth in a maiden claimer July 15). We'll probably run back against 40 New York-breds for her, too. Just kind of getting herself together, learning the job. She's been placed in two of her races in Florida and then up here. She's doing well."