By Mike Kane
SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – While many of the horses that Arcangelo (Arrogate) will face in the GI Travers S. on Aug. 26 are competing this weekend and next, trainer Jena Antonucci is midway through a deliberate, no-race prep program for her GI Belmont S. winner.
Antonucci and her pups Lucy and Mando completed the second leg of their drive from Ocala, Fla. to Saratoga Springs Friday morning in time to see Arcangelo gallop on the main track and frolic for a bit in the round pen near her barn before his bath. It was another quiet day on the way to the $1.25 million Travers, a race that could determine the 3-year-old male title.
After Arcangelo provided Antonucci with the biggest victory of her career, she decided to train the colt owned by Jon Ebbert's Blue Rose Farm up to the Travers. He has been in Saratoga since the beginning of July and has worked twice. The next breeze will take place in the coming week, though it not yet scheduled. Antonucci said his timed works are typically about 10 days apart.
GI Kentucky Derby winner Mage (Good Magic) and the Belmont third-place finisher Tapit Trice (Tapit) are tuning up for the Travers Saturday in the GI Haskell S. at Monmouth Park. Preakness runner-up Blazing Sevens (Good Magic) was third behind Scotland (Good Magic) in the Curlin S. Friday at Saratoga. On July 29, Belmont runner-up Forte (Violence) is scheduled to be the headliner in the GII Jim Dandy S.
“Some fun racing coming up,” Antonucci said. “I'm looking forward to watching some good horse races.”
Antonucci said that the Travers is part of a long-range route for the gray colt that Ebbert purchased as a Keeneland September yearling for $35,000.
“Honestly, we really are hoping to have a nice 4-year-old year with him,” she said. “I know I'm getting quite a few bullets for being just very transparent about that. His owner, when he bought this horse–people laugh, but they kind of get it now–he's like 'I'm buying this horse because I want to focus on his 2024 Breeders' Cup.' And I'm like, 'Well, this horse isn't going to keep his feet on the ground until then, so we have to have another plan, too.'”
Arcangelo broke his maiden on March 18 at Gulfstream in his third career start, won the GIII Peter Pan at Belmont on May 13 and on June 10 secured Antonucci a permanent place in racing history: the first woman to win the Belmont.
Six weeks after the Belmont and five weeks from the Travers, Antonucci is pleased with how Arcangelo looks and acts.
“We're not ducking races,” she said. “It's just being patient with a horse to grow up, let him grow up. He has had his entire career spaced out. His closest races were the Peter Pan to the Belmont. It's something that he's quite used to and quite fine with. It's just giving him his breathing room. You don't need to force stuff with him.”
Antonucci said the Travers is the current focus and did not want to talk about where she might run the colt after Saratoga. She said she does not know which jockey she will give a leg up to for the Travers since Javier Castellano won the Derby with Mage and the Belmont on Arcangelo.
“It's nothing I can control,” she said. “The rider thing is going to work out. Someone will hang on to him. I just feel that in life you can't stress about things that you can't control. I can't control that. We'll continue to do us and it will work out. It always does.”
Antonucci has been around horses and racing throughout her life and saddled her first starter in 2010. She has been racing at Saratoga since 2012. Winning the Belmont with Arcangelo boosted her profile this summer. She smiled and acknowledged that things have been different since that victory.
“If you would have scripted, 'You're going to be the first woman to win the Belmont Stakes. And when you win that this is what it means,' It still doesn't cover the layering of how it's reached past our sport, and what it means to people,” she said. “That part, I'm extremely grateful for an immense amount of gratitude from people that give that to us, and finally, looked at our sport, maybe that is not like the worst thing on the planet.
“The other part that was interesting is just kind of how so many horsemen have actually been extremely gracious, which is in a sport where we tend to eat each other alive.”
Antonucci said she has enjoyed the countless kind words from people in and out of racing, but said the Belmont success was about the horse, not her.
“I can't do this without all of us, without that horse, and I am extremely aware of that,” she said. “So, it is his story that I happen to hang on to his tail for. It will continue to be his story and his owner's story. My job is to steward that. I understand logically that, but it's his journey that I'm trying to stay out of the way of.”
Arcangelo has settled in well at Saratoga, Antonucci said, and enjoys his time in the round pen, where can roll in the dirt, and the opportunity to be out of his stall.
“He loves it here,” she said. “He was here last summer, so this was probably just homecoming for him really. Our routine is very straightforward and boring, as far as every day. He does [the round pen] a couple times a day. I love being over here because you can go for big, long walks and that suits this horse, always has.
“He really has really taken all the attention well, where he thinks it's kind of cool. He knows where cameras are. He knows where people are. You'll see him just identify it. That's a part that you can't teach them. They either have that or they don't. They either fold from it or thrive in it. I'm super grateful that he's thriving. It makes my life a little easier.”
Noting that Arcangelo is a mid-May foal, Antonucci said since he has grown since the Belmont it makes sense not to push him this summer.
“He's precocious and has speed,” she said. “Obviously, Arrogate was extremely precocious with a high cruising speed, so I feel very blessed that he has that. I think when you are managing those things, you look at it eyes wide open. You have a horse that's showing a lot of talent that has a lot of speed and he's still a young, maturing frame. We would be absolutely stupid to go in the well, 100 times on him and not let him find his space and grow up and keep putting it all together.
“I give Jon a ton of credit on this. He has been absolutely 'Nope. Nope. Nope. Nope. Wait. We're fine. We'll take our time. Nope. Okay.' My job is to lay out the options. Here's X road maps. Here's how we're going to get to each one of these. It's just giving this horse the space that he needs, right? It works in our favor to have a cool horse the rest of this year and hopefully into next year.”