Getting to Know Jena Antonucci

Jenna Antonucci

Jena Antonucci (photo via

Q: When did you first become interested in horses?
A: I started riding at three years old. I grew up in the show-jumping world, competing in hunters, jumpers and equitation. I never imagined I would have a career in horses.

Q: Where was your first racetrack job?
A: My racetrack career isn’t of traditional means. My career is more grassroots. I was in Ocala for 15 years after growing up in South Florida and was lucky enough to work with some of the best horseman out there — from trainers, to assistants, to grooms, to exercise riders, to all of the support staff. Along this journey I feel I learned from every one of them. I learned a lot of what to do and a lot of what not to do. This current journey started as a broodmare, weanling, yearling, sales prep, rehab and two year-old farm life. As it evolved over several years, I just missed the competition and competing to put your best out there, whether it was in a show ring or a race track. After sending several young two-year-olds to the track who had unlimited potential and watching them not make it to the races, it drove me to take the next step and I took out my trainers’ license and put into action my thoughts and feelings.

I had been exposed to the race horses at age 10, when my grandparents became owners in the business. My initial impression was not favorable. The horses I was clearly drawn to, but the perceived roughness of the environment at such a young age left a less-than-satisfying desire for the industry — likely why I wasn’t drawn to it earlier.

Q: When did you win your first race?
A: I won my first race on March 7, 2010 with Irish Wildcat.

Q: What is your favorite horse that you have trained?
A: This may be one of the toughest questions to ever answer. While public perception would be the biggest wins, it is very often the smallest wins with the biggest projects that are so very rewarding. To know you found the best in a horse others had given up on is unlike any other feeling. Then, to watch that trickle over to the owners is extremely gratifying.

Watching claiming horses turn into stake horses under your care is gratifying as it just lets the public know what you already did — that your team is amazing and it takes every single person on the team to make it happen. We have to have the big wins for people to learn what our team does and what we are about, but every win, every horse and every victory is our favorite!

Q: How do you manage to run two stables, one in New York and one in Florida?
A: Very simply, my team. We are a family unit. We have basically the same crew that we’ve had for five years now. I have watched young adults come into the barn as hot walkers and they are now my top grooms. Our successes and our failures are not mine alone, they are ours. The team respects the process, has bought into the process and respects that every horse is an individual. This is the core of the program that allows us to be in more than one location.

Q: Do you like to ship to the Northeast being stabled at Belmont Park?
A: For us it doesn’t really matter where we are stabled. We aspire to place our horses the best we are able to and to take some placement risks when they present themselves.

Q: What is the ratio of grooms to horses in your barn?
A: About five. As horses come and go for their various reasons, the number can fluctuate.

Q: Tell us about Doctor J Dub on Pennsylvania Stakes weekend?
A: “Dubs,” as we refer to him, had been having a super summer. He ran some monster races at Saratoga off the turf, as the weather gods didn’t play nice with us! I had been tracking all of the sprint races through the season and we knew there were several comparable sprint stakes on top of each other. We know he’s fast, so it was trying to find the best distance and timing for him. The Pennsylvania Turf Monster was a salty race. I was loving the fact we were coming into the race off of two dirt races, as I think he got a lot out of those spots. Sheldon Russell did a super job of respecting our pre-race conversation and rode him to the letter. The rest of it was up to Dubs.


Q: Who is your equine idol?
A: I always admire the heart of a champion — at any level. The likes of Zenyatta, Cigar, Rachel [Alexandra], Ruffian, Slew, et cetera. They always find a way to win.

Q: Who is your favorite trainer?
A: My favorite trainers are those whose legacy goes and will go beyond what they do on the oval — the ones who do right by their team, owners and horses. You almost really never speak of them because they do not have to live in the spotlight speaking of themselves. It is about the horse, the team and the bigger picture. Graham Motion is an example of this character. Do right by the process and the process will do right by you!

Q: Easiest horse to train? Toughest horse to train?
A: The easiest horses to train are those who come to us that haven’t been lied to and we are able to move forward with the horse with a focus on fine-tuning their athleticism and ability. The toughest horses are those that have been lied to. The horse is such a trusting animal in general, so when you receive one in your care who is skeptical, suspicious and untrusting it is a process to get them to invest in you that you will be truthful with them and convey to them you have their best interest and will do all you can to not let them down.

When it does happen… pure magic.

Q: Any encouraging words to females who want to pursue a career in horse training?
A: Life in general has glass ceilings. You can be female, male, young, old — everyone always has a box they would like to put you in to make themselves feel more comfortable in dealing with you. I encourage any person pursuing a horse training career, or really any career, to stay true to yourself. This is rule number one.

Additionally, you must be organized, disciplined and driven. You will have lows; this is not an “if,” it is a “when.” By staying true to yourself you will be able to navigate these waters. Everyone will scrutinize you and tell you how they would do it and how they think you should do it. Stay true.

The last part I would encourage is to make sure they have a good sense of running a business. Training horses becomes the easy part when running a business. For great horsemen it is second nature so it is vital to have a basic understanding of business and what that means. Someone can help perform the administrative tasks, but when starting out you’re watching every penny, so make sure you understand what it means to own a business: cost of labor, feed, taxes, et cetera.

Being female doesn’t make us do it better or worse than a male, we just do it differently… and that’s more than OK!

Q: What is your opinion on race-day medications?
A: I welcome and encourage a mindful shift to less medications. I do not believe Lasix is the drug of the devil. I feel you need to look at the entire industry from the highest of levels to the lowest and make responsible tiered changes that will allow dedicated horseman at every level to maintain their careers and livelihood while performing our responsibility of treating the horse with the dignity and respect they so deserve. When you lessen the designer medications, the true horseman will rise up and show what they are made of.

Bleeders have always existed. We just did not have the technology to identify it. Horses went through barbaric acts to keep them from bleeding before Lasix. In my opinion, by trying to do away with the one medication that is 100 percent regulated and administered largely by the jurisdictions and/or the race track itself is not forward thinking. The argument of European versus US is a great comparison for a headline, but does not compare apples to apples. Many US trainers would relish the idea of being able to train in an open environment with endless grass, clean air and quiet spaces. Don’t let common sense go to waste on this topic. It should be spoken of more factually and less emotionally than it typically is.

Steve Rapoport
Steve Rapoport has been a practicing attorney for 34 years and resides in Houston, Texas. He’s a solo practitioner specializing in personal injury lawsuits, car wrecks and premises liability claims. A graduate of Thurgood Marshall Law School, Steve is a native New Yorker who has been following racing since 1973.
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