Arcangelo wins Belmont Stakes; trainer Antonucci makes history

Arcangelo wins Belmont Stakes; trainer Antonucci makes history
Photo: Daniel Rankin / Special to HRN

Elmont, N.Y.

Sports history was made on Saturday when Arcangelo won the Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes and trainer Jena Antonucci became the first woman to win a Triple Crown race by capturing the Test of the Champion. Antonucci broke through that a gender barrier that stood for 155 years.

Antonucci was filled with emotion as she tried to explain her journey as a trainer of Thoroughbreds in one of the most competitive racing circuits in the world.

"Never give up,” Antonucci explained. “And if you can't find a seat at the table, make your own table. Build your team, and never give up. That's what they say. You know, it's the horse, and I'm just so grateful. I will forever be indebted to his honesty to us in his heart, and it's why you get up seven days a week. I didn't get a lot of sleep the last few nights, I'm not gonna lie, and just, I'm so grateful."

Arcangelo was purchased for only $35,000 as yearling at Keeneland by owner Blue Rose Farm and did not make his debut until December of his 2-year-old year. He did not break his maiden until his third start in March at Gulfstream Park when Javier Castellano became his jockey for the first time. The son of Arrogate became a contender for the Belmont Stakes after winning the Peter Pan (G3) by a head.

As the field of nine went into the starting gate, Arcangelo was fifth choice by the betting public at almost 8-1. He broke from the gate alertly in third place on the rail just a length behind the pacesetters Tapit Shoes and the Preakness winner National Treasure.

In the first turn and onto the backstretch Castellano moved out to the three path but lost ground back to sixth position. They were able make up the lost ground five furlongs into the race.

“He was aggressive in a good way,” Castellano explained. “He wanted to run today. I had to be patient because we had a long way to go. On the back side he followed the horse in the right way and kept traveling very well.”

At the same time, National Treasure was out in front setting slow fractions, going six furlongs in 1:12.56 and then a mile in 1:37.41. It appeared the Bob Baffert runner was on his way to another front-end victory.

“I know Johnny V. (Velazquez) with National Treasure had a lot of horse in the lead,” Castellano added. “I decided to just go with the flow with my horse.”

However, the leaders were begin to tire and Castellano had shifted Arcangelo back to the rail, where he asked him to make his move on the final turn while saving ground. They got through a small opening and took the lead by the stretch call and opened to a margin of more than three lengths.

“The way he did it moving through a tiny hole to secure my spot,” the Kentucky Derby winning jockey stated. “He did it by himself. The way he finished. Amazing. I’m very proud of the horse.”

As National Treasure faded to finish sixth, the pair of Todd Pletcher horses came running and Forte finished a nose in front of Tapit Trice with Arcangelo a length and half ahead at the finished line. Arcangelo returned $17.80 to win and the 2-1 favorite Forte completed a $2 exacta that paid $68. Tapit Trice was the 5-1 third choice and the $2 trifecta was $266.50.

Castellano commented about the historic achievement for Antonucci, "I'm really happy for her. She's a really good woman, a good horseman. She's done a lot in this game, put in a lot of effort and money and time to develop the horse Arcangelo. I'm happy for her."

For Antonucci the historic Belmont win was all about the horse.

“We're just so proud of the horse right now. This horse has got the heart of a champion. He's just amazing. He's just an amazing gift, and I’m just so immensely grateful. You feel you have to prove your worth, and horses don't care. They don't care who you are.”

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