10/19/2007 12:00AM

Just call La Traviata a California girl

EmailLa Traviata, the undefeated 3-year-old filly bound for the Breeders' Cup next weekend, was a surprise arrival at John and Marsha Antonelli's farm in Santa Ynez, Calif., in February 2004.

The Antonellis did not plan for things to happen the way they did. The couple keeps approximately 11 mares, breeding them to Kentucky stallions and sending the mares back to California for the remainder of the year. Each winter, the mares return to Kentucky to foal and then be bred again. But La Traviata's dam, Piedras Negras, foaled her Johannesburg filly early in 2004 in California before the group was sent to Kentucky.

"By accident, it was a California foal," John Antonelli said. "That's not normally our operating procedure."

Technically, La Traviata is listed as a California foal and not as a California-bred, but that is not a major concern to Antonelli. He is more worried about which Breeders' Cup race she will try next weekend - Friday's $1 million Filly and Mare Sprint or Saturday's $2 million Sprint against males.

La Traviata is the top horse that the couple has bred since they launched their breeding program with a push from California breeder Tom Stull of Tommy Town Thoroughbreds, a friend of John Antonelli's.

Antonelli and Stull were partners on a horse that won its first start, which hooked Antonelli on Thoroughbreds. He later decided that the breeding side of the sport was more intriguing than racing.

"I decided I wanted to be on the breeding end and not the horse racing business," Antonelli said. "My wife and I decided to buy a farm in Santa Ynez, a 20-acre place."

That is how La Traviata was foaled in California. Had Piedras Negras been bred back to a California stallion and had that subsequent foal been born in California, La Traviata, by Johannesburg, would be listed as a California-bred and would be eligible to run in statebred races and for state breeding bonuses.

John Antonelli prefers to ship mares back and forth each year between California and Kentucky. The couple is keeping one mare in California to have her foals classified as a California-bred.

"We send the mares back to Kentucky and give them a month and a half before they're foaled," he said. "By April or May, we have them back in California. We want to see the babies and take care of the babies ourselves, and look and see what we have.

"She is California-raised," Antonelli said of La Traviata. "She's a California girl."

The Antonellis sold La Traviata for $112,000 at the 2005 Fasig-Tipton Keeneland summer yearling sale. She was later resold for $1.1 million at the Fasig-Tipton Florida February sale of 2-year-olds in training to Michael Tabor, Susan Magnier, and Derrick Smith, her current owners.

La Traviata is unbeaten in three starts, including an emphatic victory in the Grade 3 Victory Ride Stakes at Saratoga on Aug. 25. Antonelli, for one, thinks she will start against males on Saturday, and the Sprint is indeed listed as her first preference. The filly has been trained by Patrick Biancone, but will race in the Breeders' Cup for Biancone's assistant Francois Parisel because Biancone was suspended for a medication violation.

"She's a drop-dead gorgeous animal," said Antonelli, 61, who owns a document imaging business and resides in Whittier, Calif. "When she was born and was out in the paddock, she had an attitude. She stood there in the pasture and said, 'This is all mine.' She had something going for her. She was a big strong filly and was correct.

The Antonellis primarily breed to sell, but have kept a yearling colt out of Piedras Negras by Johannesburg.

"We pay quite a bit of attention to the mares side of the family," he said. "This business is really miss with an occasional hit. If we can get one out of 11 that comes out good, we're in good shape."