Belmont could be “great experience” for Antiquarian

When it comes to confidently contending in the Triple Crown, Centennial Farms is, as many race callers might state, “still there.” 

Thirty-one years after the first female jockey to win a Triple Crown race, Julie Krone, bounded home in the 1993 Belmont Stakes aboard Centennial’s Colonial Affair, Centennial Farms returns to a familiar Triple Crown role: pouncing in the Belmont Stakes. This year, for the first time, that means a trip to Saratoga.

Centennial’s proprietor, Don Little, goes to the Belmont Stakes every year usually commuting from his Massachusetts home. This year his interest is more than Saratoga’s historic hosting the Belmont Stakes. 

“It’s about the same distance from where I live,” joked Little about the commute.

With John Velazquez aboard for trainer Todd Pletcher, Antiquarian (12-1, ML) is Centennial’s next bid at winning a Triple Crown race, which would be its first since that glorious 1993 triumph. 

Antiquarian won the Peter Pan Stakes four weeks ago at Aqueduct, narrowing out The Wine Steward by three-fourths of a length at the wire and the maiden Protective by a couple. Both those rivals return for the Triple Crown’s final jewel. 

Velazquez is the only jockey to ride Antiquarian in his five-race career, who is trained by Todd Pletcher.

“It’s a thrill to be here. We’re on an upswing and this is a great opportunity,” expounded Little. “We’re looking forward to this and the remainder of the summer for other stakes races down the road.”

The aspiration with up-and-coming Antiquarian is to win the historic running, not merely to appear for the novelty of it all. Over the years Centennial has approached the Triple Crown only when feeling legitimate, avoiding the temptation to run when not merited. As Little puts it, “We’re not going to show up with a 20-1 shot.”

Centennial was founded in 1982 by Don V. Little, Sr., after venturing into claiming horses at Suffolk Downs. A decade later, Colonial Affair won in Centennial’s Triple Crown debut, a win that also largely marked the end of a post-Secretariat golden age of Virginia racing that included Kentucky Derby winner Sea Hero for Paul Mellon’s Rokeby Stables and Hansel, who won the last two legs of the Triple Crown for Lazy Lane Farms.

That era was preceded by Bertram Firestone’s Genuine Risk in 1980, the first filly to win the Kentucky Derby in 65 years, and Colonial Affair’s sire, Virginia-bred Pleasant Colony, who won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness in 1981.

Colonial Affair’s Belmont Stakes win was impactful, not only because Julie Krone’s win made racing history but also because it may have been the final stride to bring live racing to Virginia. As the last Virginia-bred to walk into a Triple Crown winner’s circle, Colonial Affair helped launch Colonial Downs. 

Shortly after that Belmont Stakes, the Virginia Racing Commission set the deadline to determine the track’s developer. A year after that, Stansley Racing earned the operator’s license.


In the late 1990s, Centennial’s farm based in Middleburg, Virginia underwent changes that passed the touch to Don V. Little, Jr. yet maintaining the relationship established by Centennial’s founder with farm manager Paula Parsons and veterinarian Dr. Stephen Carr who Little, Sr. had met on the polo fields. Don Little, Jr. was a polo player at the University of Virginia and has served many roles with the U.S. Polo Association.

While Centennial has exercised the equine discipline of letting the horse carve its own career path, they have always kept an eye on running in Triple Crown races. Colonial Affair was 13-1 when he won the Belmont Stakes, the race that Little says was always the target that year.

Antiquarian won the Peter Pan Stakes. Photo by Adam Coglianese.

Wicked Strong ran fourth in both the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont Stakes in 2014 before winning the Jim Dandy and finishing second in the Travers, both run at Saratoga. 

Like Antiquarian, Unified won the Peter Pan in 2016, but at the time going two turns in the Belmont Stakes didn’t fit his style, and his connections passed on the Belmont Stakes. It proved to be the right decision, as Unified would later finish fifth in the Pegasus and become more of a sprinter, winning the Gulfstream Park Sprint and finishing second in the Carter Handicap. 

Antiquarian’s name is tied to his lineage. An antiquarian refers to an aficionado or student of antiquities or things of the past, and Antiquarian is by Preservationist out of Lifetime Memory, by Istan. 

Though Preservationist stands for just $5,000, Little went to $250,000 to purchase him Keeneland’s September Yearling sale in 2022. Maybe it was the familiarity; Preservationist ran in Centennial’s colors during a career in which he won the Grade 1 Woodward and over $1 million.

“We like to keep it in the family so to speak, but he still had to meet our racing criteria as a yearling,” explained Little.

In addition to owning Preservationist’s most prominent son to date, Centennial retained a share in the sire.

“With a win the value increases,” observed Little noting that in addition to the purse money, the value of Preservationist would be an added bonus. 

Centennial, despite racing a limited number of horses, finds award-winning success every half-decade or so. Centennial runners have included four-time graded winner King Cugat in 2000-01; Grade 1 winner Corinthian, who took the ‘07 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile; 2014 Wood Memorial winner Wicked Strong; and Preservationist, whose two graded wins came in 2019.

And now, Antiquarian.

The Virginia angle seems to have worked in the Belmont Stakes over the years, with Virginia-connected winners like Quadrangle and Arts and Letters in the 1960s, Riva Ridge and Secretariat in the 1970s, and 1990s stars Hansel and Colonial Affair. 

More recently Virginia breeders Renee and Lauren Wolcott of The Plains bred the 2014 Belmont Stakes winner, Tonalist, who also won the Peter Pan Stakes. Both Antiquarian and the Maryland-bred Mindframe come out of the Virginia Certified Residency Program, graduates that comprise one-fifth of the Belmont Stakes field.

“The biggest thing about horse racing is the experience, and Antiquarian is providing us a great experience,” Little said, hoping to be added to a list of Belmont Stakes winners of which they are already part.