Her horses are running well, but they are getting claimed quickly, as she still seeks her first career win.
Many new trainers find it challenging to win their first race, especially with a small stable.
Michelle Giangiulio’s experience is not much different. However, along with trying to get her first career victory, she has a difficult time of keeping horses.
Since becoming a trainer earlier this year, Giangiulio started four separate horses. While each horse ran well with either a second- or third-place finish, three of those horses have been taken by other owners or trainers through the claiming box.
Wagon Boss was the latest horse taken from her following his third-place finish in the first race of Saratoga Race Course’s Opening Day card.
After the race, Giangiulio went into the racing office and learned that 11 trainers submitted a $12,500 claim for the 8-year-old gelding. Eventually, Jeffrey Englehart became the new owner and trainer of Wagon Boss after the “shake,” a lottery process used when there are multiple claims on a horse.
“I went into the racing office, and it was packed. I didn’t realize they were shaking on my horse,” she said. “My horses keep getting claimed and we are losing shakes. It is tough when you have only 3-4 horses, then you lose one. The hardest part is keeping stock. You never know when you will get another one in [the stable].”
Giangiulio fell into that situation with her first career start and just one horse: Parade Field. She entered that 5-year-old gelding for a $20,000 claiming tag at Aqueduct on Feb. 15. After Parade Field was claimed with his third-place finish, that put her in a difficult situation – no horse to train.
It took a couple of months for Giangiulio to regroup with the help of Marshall Gramm, a founding partner of Ten Strike Racing, Associate Professor in Economics at Rhodes College and two-time qualifier for the National Handicapping Championships. Along with Wagon Boss, Gramm sent her two other horses: Easy Shot and True Castle.
“Marshall Gramm has been so great by sending me horses,” Giangiulio said. “He has been really trying to help me out. He’s really supportive. He actually sent Wagon Boss to Indiana Grand after he claimed him. He told me this horse might be OK going long at Saratoga for $12,500. He looked fantastic.”
While it can be discouraging to lose horses through the claiming box, Giangiulio has a sense of affirmation knowing that owners and trainers are interested in her horses because of their condition going into a race.
“I think it says a lot,” Giangiulio said. “The horses look good. They are running well. Every horse that I have run, except for True Castle, has been claimed. Everyone tells me that it is a good thing. It feels good that someone takes my horses because they are in the right spot. At the same time, it’s part of the mixed emotions because I lose a horse.”
Since being a child and teenager, Giangiulio has always enjoyed being around horses. The South New Jersey native started working and riding show horses while going to Hammonton High School.
After graduating from high school, she became interested in working with Thoroughbreds and crossed the Delaware River to Parx Racing, just north of Philadelphia where Juan Carlos Guerrera, trainer of the 2019 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile champion Spun to Run, hired her as a groom and an assistant.
Giangiulio got her first glimpse of New York racing in 2014 when she travelled with Guerrera to bring Classic Giacnroll to Aqueduct for the Jerome Stakes and Withers Stakes. Attracted to the New York racing scene, Giangiulio left Parx for Aqueduct and Belmont to work for various trainers, including Chad Brown, Jena Antonucci, Joe Sharp, Thomas Morley, and Kelly Breen.
Giangiulio did not come to Saratoga until 2016 when she was an assistant to Sharp. While Sharp spent most of that season staying in Kentucky, she helped the stable win four races that meet.
“We had a good meet that year,” she said. “Joe had a second baby, so he wasn’t up here as much. I had to run everything up here. We had a solid team. It was fun. From Parx to Belmont, that was a big jump. When I went from Belmont to Saratoga, I said, ‘I am in the big leagues.’ It was awesome.”
That is not the only awesome experience for Giangiulio since coming to New York. Three years ago, she got a chance to see one of her favorite horses who made history: Triple Crown winner Justify.
She had always been fond of the son of Scat Daddy after winning his debut with a 9 ½-length margin in 1:21.86 for seven furlongs at Santa Anita. While Giangiulio was working for Morley, Justify was stabled across the street at John Terranova’s barn prior to the Belmont Stakes.
“I absolutely fell in love with Justify,” she said. “When he first ran, I knew he was going to be a Triple Crown winner. The way he was put together was perfection. He was stunning and a monster of a horse.”
Through many memorable experiences with horses for more than a decade, Giangiulio is hoping to build off of that as a one-person stable right now. While the days can be long, especially starting at 4 a.m., she does like to be her own boss.
“I love not having a boss,” she said with a little laughter. “For my whole life, I wanted to be my own boss and train my own horses. Everyone who I worked for was great and they knew what they were doing, but I love to see what I can do and see a horse progress from decisions that I made.”
“It’s really rewarding,” she added. “I knew all along that I could do it with all of the horses running good. That has been a really awesome part. I cannot be disappointed at all. I have a lot to look forward to the future.”