Trainer makes history with Arcangelo’s triumph in the Belmont Stakes

Arcangelo trainer Jena Antonucci, center, holds up a trophy alongside jockey Javier Castellano and owner  Jon Ebbert.
Arcangelo trainer Jena Antonucci, center, holds up the August Belmont Trophy alongside jockey Javier Castellano, right, and owner Jon Ebbert after winning the 155th running of the Belmont Stakes on Saturday.
(John Minchillo / Associated Press)

History was made at the Belmont Stakes on Saturday. Not by the horse but the trainer. In the 452nd Triple Crown race, Jena Antonucci became the first female trainer to win a classic when Arcangelo found a spot on the inside and rushed through to win the 155th running of the Belmont Stakes.

It was a moment that seemed inevitable but was just out of reach. No more.

Antonucci runs a small stable in Florida. She met Jon Ebbert the day before the September Keeneland sale in 2021, when he bought a horse for $35,000 that he named Arcangelo. He gave it to Antonucci to train. She was patient as the horse took three tries to win his first race.

Then he was shipped to New York, where he was entered in the Grade 3 Peter Pan Stakes at this same Belmont Park track. He won by a head. Could this far-fetched dream become a reality?


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“They say there is no crying in baseball, but they never said anything about horse racing,” Antonucci said in the post-race news conference while fighting back tears, sometimes unsuccessfully. “[It’s about] overcoming adversities. … You take it on the chin and you fight for that spot and you feel you have to prove your worth.

“Horses don’t care who you are. They know who you are. To have a horse believe in you and your team the way that this horse does [is incredible]. He sees you. I wish more people could be like horses.”

Nine horses took off from the gate at the start of the Belmont Stakes. National Treasure, the Preakness Stakes winner for trainer Bob Baffert, went to the lead as expected and held it late into the far turn. Arcangelo was near the rear of the compact pack running down the backstretch. With about half a mile to go in the 1 ½-mile race, Arcangelo tucked to the rail and had a clear path at the leader and snuck past him on the inside. He drifted a little in the stretch as he saw his three-length lead whittled to 1 ½ lengths. It was more than enough for his history-making victory.

Arcangelo, with jockey Javier Castellano riding, crosses the finish line to win the Belmont Stakes on Saturday.
(John Minchillo / Associated Press)
Arcangelo, with jockey Javier Castellano, crosses the finish line to win the 155th running of the Belmont Stakes on Saturday.
(Seth Wenig / Associated Press)

Arcangelo paid $17.80 to win, $7.20 to place and $4.90 to show. Forte, making his first start since the Florida Derby after state veterinarians scratched him out of the Kentucky Derby, came hard at the end to finish second by a nose over Tapit Trice. Hit Show and Angel of Empire finished in a dead heat for fourth. The remainder of the finishers were National Treasure, Il Miracolo, Red Route One and Tapit Shoes.


The day was not without the kind of tragedy that has shadowed the sport lately. In the last race, the one after the Belmont Stakes, Excursionniste suffered a fracture of his left front leg and was euthanized. Since May 4, when the meeting began, the track has had five racing or training fatalities. It was the only fatality of the week.

The Belmont Stakes was also a milestone for jockey Javier Castellano, who hadn’t won it in 14 tries. Five weeks ago, he won the Kentucky Derby with Mage. He now has a lifetime Triple Crown, having won the Preakness twice.

“This is a dream come true,” Castellano said. “To win two Triple Crown races in the same year, it’s amazing. Everything worked out so good. There’s always something to shoot for, but I’m just going to keep working hard.”

What makes this journey even more remarkable is that Ebbert was given several chances to sell the horse at a huge profit.

“People offered me a lot of money for the horse, but we just had faith in the horse,” Ebbert said. “The way Jena works with you it gives you confidence to stay with her and take the gamble you’re going to win with the horse.”

The loyalty was not lost on Antonucci.

“This crazy guy gave the girl a chance,” she said. “And there is a lot of credit [to give] for that because his phone rang and rang. Move the horse. Buy the horse. Give it to the guys. No offense to them, I love them all, but he gave the girl a chance.”

Antonucci has been training on her own since 2010 after working for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas and spending time as an equine veterinary assistant. She had a measure of success, having won more than $6 million in purses in almost 2,000 starts. Yet no race was bigger than her win Saturday in the first Triple Crown race she started.


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“She will try her best for each owner,” Ebbert said. “I don’t think it’s the same with bigger trainers. They pick and choose which owners [to talk to]. Every owner is her friend. She treats them all with the highest respect and gratitude. She has been amazing. That’s why we’re here.”

Antonucci never set out to be the first female trainer to win a Triple Crown race. She just wanted to be a trainer who won a Triple Crown race. But she had a sense the playing field was not even.

“When we were walking out, I said there is not a table made for you,” Antonucci said. “You make the table. 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.”

Somehow, Antonucci has built more than a table, she’s built immortality.