Sea Foam scoring the Evan Shipman. (Adam Coglianese)
By Mary Eddy
OZONE PARK, N.Y. – Trainer Michelle Giangiulio will be trying for her third career stakes win when she sends out Win for Gold in Friday’s Grade 3, $200,000 Fall Highweight Handicap, a six-furlong sprint for 3-year-olds and up, at Aqueduct Racetrack
Giangiulio burst onto the scene on a particularly hot July afternoon at Saratoga Race Course when multiple stakes-winning New York-bred Sea Foam scored in the Evan Shipman, giving her the rare distinction of garnering her first career training victory in a stakes race.
Three years later, Giangiulio operates a thriving business based at Belmont Park, enjoying a 46 percent in-the-money rate as of mid-November.
“I try not to get too creative, and I run our horses where they need to be and can be competitive. I want to be as hands on as possible,” said Giangiulio. “We need small trainers, and if we don’t have them, we wouldn’t have much of an industry.”
Giangiulio is one of dozens of smaller outfits that have planted their stakes on Belmont’s expansive backstretch, carving out their place in the sport with hardworking teams and adept claims that carry them through each season at the New York Racing Association, Inc.’s (NYRA) three racetracks.
The claiming division serves as a baseline for many trainers’ operations, including Giangiulio, who said the importance of claiming horses cannot be overstated.
“If we didn’t have claiming, we wouldn’t have anything. It’s the foundation of horse racing,” Giangiulio said. “If we didn’t have it, horses would just have to retire if they couldn’t be stakes horses. It’s how I got my barn going – 95 percent of my horses here are claims. It’s super important.”
Giangiulio began her career working for several years as an assistant to top trainers that included four-time Eclipse Award-winner Chad Brown and Grade 1-winners Joe Sharp and Tom Morley and stepped out on her own in early 2021 with the support of owners like Ten Strike Racing and Four Corners Racing. In the beginning, she exercised each of her horses herself and did everything from hotwalking to picking stalls, aided only by an exercise rider to breeze her trainees. These days, her operation remains hands-on and smaller than many, but has grown to fill an entire shed row at Belmont.
“I get to the barn quarter to five just about seven days a week. We try to have a walk day once a week and on normal training days, our horses gallop a mile and a half and then once a week they’ll have their normal breeze,” Giangiulio said. “We’ve got eight or nine sets a day and it’s a long morning sometimes. We’ve got 17 horses and I get on a couple of them. I don’t have a foreman or an assistant, so it’s me and my grooms and we have a great team of people.”
Giangiulio started her first horse in February 2021 and finished on the board in her first seven races. She closed out that year with a four-race win streak at Aqueduct Racetrack ahead of a sophomore year that saw her win five races. This year, she has grown exponentially both in purse earnings and wins, owning 15 wins and over $780,000 in purses by mid-November.
With claiming at the center of Giangiulio’s business, her best acquisition to date came in July 2021 with Ten Strike Racing’s Sea Foam, who was haltered for $45,000 out of an optional claiming tilt as Giangiulio was growing her fledgling stable. She made a bold decision to run the son of Medaglia d’Oro back just 12 days later in the state-bred Evan Shipman, where he would deliver his trainer’s first victory in impressive fashion with a strong five-length romp under Joel Rosario.
“It was so special. I’ve won some good races, but nothing comes close to that,” said Giangiulio. “It was epic, and I wish I could relive that day. The couple weeks after were just amazing with people realizing who I am and that I’m a trainer. It was so cool.”
Later that year, Sea Foam went on to win the Alex M. Robb at Aqueduct and was dual stakes-placed last year during his 7-year-old campaign. The now 8-year-old, whose retirement was announced on October 19, is Giangiulio’s best runner to date in earnings and banked $232,358 since he was claimed.
Other astute claims for Giangiulio include Ten Strike Racing, Four Corners Racing, Broadview Stables and Cory Moelis Racing’s Win for Gold, who has been a model of consistency since he was haltered for $25,000 out of a win in February at Aqueduct. The New York-bred son of Goldencents has hit the board in 8-of-9 starts since, including a three-win streak started August 17 at Saratoga Race Course that included a starter allowance score ahead of state-bred victories in a first-level allowance and second-level optional claimer.
Giangiulio noted that the New York-bred program allows for horses like Win for Gold to have plenty of options for the best chance at success.
“We’ve had some very good claims and Win for Gold is one of them,” said Giangiulio. “The New York program and NYRA is a lot of fun. When we claimed him, he still had his starter condition and all his New York-bred allowance conditions. Luckily enough, he’s done fantastic in my program and we’re able to head to stakes. Even if he doesn’t win, we can still go and run-in open allowance races elsewhere.”
Giangiulio has now started in over 150 races, with each one providing her with the knowledge and experience to continue her journey into the sport.
“I think along the way I’ve learned a lot of patience. It pays off,” Giangiulio said. “Some owners push you to put a horse in a spot that’s too over their head, but I always trust my gut and go with that. I’ve learned to run horses where they need to be.
“Sometimes it doesn’t work out, but at least you know where they need to be and you can move on from where you’re at,” Giangiulio continued. “There were horses I would claim earlier that I would say, ‘Oh, this horse is doing great, I can improve off of any trainer,’ but it depends on the horse. Sometimes you get lucky, but not all are going to be that way. You’ve got to be realistic.”
As of November 19, Giangiulio owns a lifetime record of 160-26-27-21 with total purse earnings of $1,410,443. While her main upcoming goal focuses on the talented Win for Gold, Giangiulio said she will continue to strive for even bigger goals, as she has done for the past three years.
“This coming year, I’m really excited for the babies I have,” said Giangiulio. “Maybe this time next year, we can think Breeders’ Cup.”