Just when the Triple Crown and even the whole of United States racing needed a jolt – even for just a day – along came Jena. And Javier. And Arcangelo.
Blue Rose Farm’s Arcangelo put an emphatic cap on a turbulent spring classics season Saturday at Belmont Park, surging through the stretch en route to a history-making victory in the 155th Belmont Stakes. The son of Arrogate’s 1 ½-length win over last year’s champion 2-year-old male Forte gave Hall of Fame jockey Javier Castellano two-thirds of the Triple Crown this year and put Jena Antonucci’s name in the record books as the first female trainer to capture a U.S. classic.
Arcangelo’s workmanlike victory in 2:29.23 over Belmont’s fast main track provided an emotional victory for Antonucci, who wiped away tears making the long walk from the box seats to the racetrack to meet her charge, and provided a welcome respite from a tumultuous spring marked by breakdowns at Churchill Downs and Pimlico Race Course.
The paid crowd of 48,089 roared in approval when Arcangelo hit the finish in front of a field that also included Grade 1 winners Tapit Trice, Angel Of Empire and Preakness winner National Treasure. They cheered for the gray ridgling who won the Grade 3 Peter Pan in his most recent start less than a month ago at Belmont, for Castellano and Antonucci.
“When we were walking out, I said there is not a table made for you. You make the table,” said Antonucci, who had only won two graded stakes since taking out her trainer’s license in 2019. “You put great people around you, you work hard. Work your tail off. It will come if you do it the right way. Do it the right way.”
Arcangelo, a $35,000 yearling purchase by Blue Rose Farm’s Jon Ebbert at the 2021 Keeneland September sale, and Castellano did it the right way.
Sent off at almost 8-1 and the fifth choice in the field of nine, Arcangelo raced behind the early pace set by National Treasure and Tapit Shoes in sixth through the opening half-mile in :47.69. Castellano, who rode Mage to his first victory in the Kentucky Derby five weeks ago at Churchill, worked through the field and into second by the time National Treasure shrugged off his early pursuers and clicked past the mile mark in 1:37.41 and a length in front.
Arcangelo continued on well down on the inside around the far turn and was only a head behind past the quarter pole with National Treasure coming under pressure. Arcengelo slid through the inside and took the lead in the lane before drifting out despite Castellano’s right handed encouragement in midstretch while bracing for the late runs of Forte, Tapit Trice and Hit Show.
Arcangelo held them off, with Forte winning a three-way photo for the place, a nose in front of Tapit Trice with Hit Show another three-quarters of a length back in fourth. Angel Of Empire, National Treasure, Il Miracolo, Red Route One and Tapit Shoes completed the field.
Castellano pumped his fist crossing the wire, celebrating not only his second classic win this year but a personal Triple Crown. He won the 2006 Preakness on Bernardini and the 2017 Preakness aboard Cloud Computing.
“This is a dream come true,” Castellano said. “To win two Triple Crown races in the same year, it’s amazing. Everything worked out good. There’s always something to shoot for, but I’m just going to keep working hard. But this is so special. He was so impressive. He was always there for me.”
Antonucci, 47, is no stranger to New York racing fans and a regular each summer at Saratoga Race Course. She trains primarily out of Gulfstream Park in South Florida, where she got Arcangelo started late last year in a pair of maiden events at the Championship Meet.
Bred by Don Alberto Corporation, Arcangelo is out of the Tapit mare Modeling from a family dripping with distance-loving pedigrees. Modeling is a daughter of the winning Storm Cat mare Teeming, who is out of Broodmare of the Year Better Than Honour, the dam of Belmont Stakes winners Rags To Riches and Jazil. Modeling was unraced and sold in foal to leading sire Distorted Humor for $2.85 million at the 2014 Keeneland November breeding stock sale.
Ebbert initially bought Arcangelo as a potential pinhooking prospect, finding a bargain son of the record-setting soon-to-be inducted Hall of Famer Arrogate in the middle of the 2021 Keeneland September sale.
“It’s amazing. What an amazing ride,” Ebbert said of the Belmont. “I’m so proud of the horse. He’s an amazing horse. He’s all heart. We knew he had it in him. Javier rode him perfectly and Jena is an amazing trainer. I’m so lucky to find her. The rest is history.”
Antonucci made history even before Arcangelo’s victory as the 11th female trainer to saddle a runner in the Belmont Stakes. She was the first since Kathy Ritvo sent Mucho Macho Man to a seventh in the 2011 renewal and topped Dianne Carpenter’s runner-up effort with Kingpost in the 1988 behind Risen Star. Female trainers have participated in the other spring classics in the long history of the series, with 17 running in the Kentucky Derby and three in the Preakness.
Before Antonucci became the lone female winner – not counting owners or the horses themselves – Hall of Fame jockey Julie Krone won the 1993 Belmont Stakes aboard Colonial Affair.
Antonucci quickly deflected any credit, praising her improving colt who went from a maiden win going 1 mile March 18 at Gulfstream to graded stakes winner in the 9-furlong Peter Pan May 13 at Belmont to classic winner in the longest and most demanding of the Triple Crown events.
“He’s just figuring it all out. He’s just a big kid,” Antonucci said. “Javier did such a great job. There were a lot of horses taking up in the first turn and he sorted that out and got it together and on the backside made his way up the rail. We knew we wanted to get a little jump on them. We weren’t even worried about the distance. His cruising speed is just stupid, stupid fast.”
That speed was worth $900,000 and boosted Arcanelo’s bankroll to $1,067,400, easily Antonucci’s leading earner in a career where she’s won 160 races from 1,914 starts.
“It’s the horse and I am so grateful,” Antonucci said. “I will forever be indebted to his honesty to us, his heart, and he is why you get up seven days a week. I didn’t get a lot of sleep the last few nights, I’m not going to lie. I’m so grateful.”
Belmont Notes: Saturday’s card, which featured nine stakes, generated all-sources handle of $118,283,455, a NYRA record for a non-Triple Crown year. The 2023 handle figure is an increase of more than 5 percent over the previous non-Triple Crown record of $112,725,278 set in 2021. All-sources handle on the Belmont Stakes, the 12th of 13 races Saturday, was $56,533,820. … Other trainers to hit the board in Triple Crown races are Shelley Reilly, who saddled Casual Lies to a second in the 1992 Kentucky Derby and a third in the 1993 Preakness; Nancy Alberts, who sent out Magic Weisner to a second behind War Emblem in the 2002 Preakness; Kristin Mulhall, third in the 2004 Kentucky Derby with Imperialism; Kathy Ritvo, third in the 2011 Kentucky Derby with Mucho Macho Man ; and Linda Rice, third in the 2020 Belmont with Max Player. … Antonucci was the 11th female trainer to start a runner in the Belmont Stakes.