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Arcangelo Follows Belmont Victory by Taking Travers

It was on June 10 that Jena Antonucci entered the record books by winning the Belmont Stakes (G1) with Arcangelo  and becoming the first female trainer to win a Triple Crown race.

Eleven weeks later, Antonucci registered another monumental achievement Aug. 26 when Arcangelo captured the $1.25 million Travers Stakes (G1) in a widely anticipated showdown of the major players in the 3-year-old male division at Saratoga Race Course.

History will say that Antonucci became the first female trainer to win the Travers since 1938, but the manner of Arcangelo’s victory spoke in far louder terms about Antonucci’s abilities as a trainer. Not only is she a ground-breaking female trainer, but her prowess in having Arcangelo in top form for a championship battle without a race since June stamped her as a great trainer.

“I know we have a good horse, I do. And do I know that if anyone else was saddling this horse he would have gone off as the favorite? I do,” said Antonucci, after Arcangelo went off the 5-2 second choice behind Forte , the 8-5 favorite who finished second to Arcangelo in the Belmont. “You don’t let the naysayers deter you or let them beat you. This horse showed up. He is class and honesty all day long and I am so grateful for him.

“Thanks to the naysayers for motivating us a little more.”

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Antonucci also had words for those who questioned not giving Arcangelo a prep race between the Belmont and Travers.

“I get a lot of flak for that still,” she said. “That’s why I tune you guys off before the race. It never was a layoff in my mind with this horse. I understand the traditionalists of this sport are always going to view gaps in that manner. This horse had his entire career that way because (owner Jon Ebbert) wants this horse to be brought along slowly, correctly, and be given the time he needs to grow up. I feel we have respected that with this horse.”

If there was a question about leadership in the 3-year-old male division it was answered in the 2:02.23 it took for Blue Rose Farm’s Arcangelo to sweep to a length victory on a muddy track over 12-1 shot Disarm  in a battle between the winners of this year’s three Triple Crown races and 2-year-old champ Forte.  

As jockey Javier Castellano picked up a record-extending seventh Travers win on the son of the late 2016 Travers winner Arrogate, Forte and Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Mage  never fired and finished fourth and seventh and last, respectively. The Bob Baffert-trained Preakness Stakes (G1) winner National Treasure  pressed the early pace and faded to fifth in the mile-and-a-quarter Midsummer Derby.

Jockey Javier sits atop Arcangelo after winning the 154th running The Travers Stakes his sixth time at the Saratoga Race Course Saturday Aug 26, 2023 in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. Photo Special to the Times Union by Skip Dickstein
Photo: Skip Dickstein

Javier Castellano holds up seven figures for his record seven wins in the Travers

When asked where Arcangelo stood in the pecking order of 3-year-olds, Antonucci replied, “That’s above my pay grade.”

For Mike Repole, owner of the Todd Pletcher-trained Forte along with St. Elias Stable’s Vinnie Viola, the question had an obvious answer.

“No doubt. Not even a question,” Repole said about Arcangelo’s spot atop the division. “If I had a vote, that’s who I would vote for.”

Bred by Don Alberto Corporation, Arcangelo ($7.40) left little room for debate with a powerful performance as he was fourth after six furlongs in 1:11.73 as Scotland  set the pace then swept to the front with a four-wide move on the final turn, opening up a three-length lead at the eighth pole before Winchell Thoroughbreds’ Disarm cut into the margin late.

“On the backside I had so much horse I felt I could blow by and win by 10,” said Castellano, who ended up on Arcangelo instead of Mage and has enjoyed a renaissance year with Kentucky Derby, Belmont Stakes, and Travers wins after having no mounts on last year’s Travers card. “After the three-eighths pole, I enjoyed the ride. I enjoyed the moment.”

Arcangelo and Javier Castellano win the G1 Travers Stakes, Saratoga Racetrack, Saratoga Springs, NY, August 26, 2023, Mathea Kelley
Photo: Mathea Kelley

Arcangelo wins the Travers Stakes at Saratoga Race Course

For Antonucci it was also a moment filled with pride and satisfaction in proving skeptics wrong once again.

“This feels a little more vindicated than the Belmont to be honest. You come out of the first one (the Belmont) and people ask, ‘Was it a fluke?’ They say, ‘Oh, she got lucky.’ I think this one was different. We came back at it and showed we are serious and the horse is serious,” she said.

Next figures to be the Nov. 4 Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) at Santa Anita Park, which is 10 weeks away, but Antonucci would not tip her hand about how the son of the Tapit   mare Modeling would get there. 

“We’re going to enjoy this one,” Antonucci said, basically reprising her comments after the Belmont about future plans.

With a victory at the World Championships, Antonucci would become the second female trainer to win the Classic.

“I guess the more this horse does we’re going to keep writing history,” Antonucci said.

For Ebbert, who bought Arcangelo for $35,000 from the Gainesway consignment at the Keeneland September Sale, the victory in the Midsummer Derby added to an incredible rise to prominence by a ridgling who broke his maiden in his third try on March 18 at Gulfstream Park. 

Arcangelo now has wins in his last four starts and four wins in six starts overall, with earnings of $1,754,900.

“I envisioned him as a late 3-year-old and a great 4-year-old,” Ebbert said. “Could I have envisioned after the maiden win that we would be here now? I don’t know. We started taking shots and won the Peter Pan (G3) and the Belmont and now the Travers. He’s made a complete transformation, physically and mentally (from a yearling). He’s a completely different animal. He was beautiful then. A beautiful mover, leggy but immature. Even the 11 weeks from the Belmont to the Travers we didn’t look at it as a layoff. We looked at it as growth.”

Jockey Javier Castellano is joined by trainer Jena Antonucci, right and owner of Arcangelo Jon Ebbert, center after winning the 154th running of The Travers Stakes at the Saratoga Race Course Saturday Aug 26, 2023 in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. Photo Special to the Times Union by Skip Dickstein
Photo: Skip Dickstein

(left to right): Javier Castellano, Jena Antonucci, and John Ebbert after Arcangelo’s win in the Travers Stakes at Saratoga Race Course

Arcangelo is the fifth and most recent foal by Modeling, who has produced two winners from three starters.

Trainer Steve Asmussen, who has a win and two seconds in the last three editions of the Travers with Winchell horses, was pleased with the effort by Disarm, a homebred son of Gun Runner   who was coming off a fourth behind the victorious Forte in the Jim Dandy Stakes (G2) at the Spa.

“He’s an unbelievably nice horse,” he said. “He keeps getting better and better and I’m very proud of the effort he put in.”

Whisper Hill Farm and Gainesway Stable’s Tapit Trice  showed more speed with the addition of blinkers. Trained by Pletcher, the Blue Grass Stakes (G1) winner moved up from last after the opening quarter to bid for the lead three-wide on the final turn but the son of Tapit could not gain ground in the stretch and settled for the show spot, 2 1/2 lengths behind Disarm.

Repole said Forte flattened out in the stretch while rallying wide.

“It looked like he was going to make a move and it didn’t come,” he said.

On a day with a paid crowd of 48,292 and an all-sources handle of $50.1 million, the racing was marred by the death of two more horses at the meet, including New York Thunder , who was leading in the stretch of the H. Allen Jerkens Memorial (G1) when he suffered a fatal injury.

Arcangelo and Javier Castellano win the G1 Travers Stakes, Saratoga Racetrack, Saratoga Springs, NY, August 26, 2023, Mathea Kelley
Photo: Mathea Kelley

A rainbow is visible over the grandstand as the Travers field passes under the wire for the first time

Then less than five minutes before post time for a smooth and clean 154th edition of the Travers, a rainbow appeared over the racetrack.

“It was a beautiful way to end the day,” Ebbert said.

Especially for Jena Antonucci, who should now be known as a superior horse trainer. Period.

Video: Travers S. (G1)


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