Arcangelo proved that his Belmont win wasn’t a fluke by showing his mettle at the Travers after an 11-week break. The seven-horse field included the top three-year-old colts — Disarm finished second, Tapit Trice finished third, Forte was fourth, Preakness winner National Treasure was fifth, and Kentucky Derby victor Mage finished last of seven.
Many questioned trainer Jena Antonucci for not giving the colt a prep race after the Belmont, but the groundbreaking trainer said her strategy was based on listening to the horse.
“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.”
Antonucci is only the second female trainer to saddle a Travers winner. The last was in 1938 when Mary Hirsch won the race with Thanksgiving.
Arcangelo was ridden by Javier Castellano, who can claim the most Travers victories of any jockey — seven. But it hasn’t been an easy trip for him. A 2017 Hall of Fame inductee and four-time Eclipse Award winner, Castellano has battled injuries in recent years and a decline in business that kept him away from Saratoga last year.
“Of course, it means a lot to me because this game is up and down. I remember last year I didn’t have any horses to ride on the card. I had to go out of town. I ended up riding at Monmouth Park last year because I didn’t have any business. The year before I only rode one horse on the 14 races and it was a maiden special weight. I don’t take anything for granted in this game. You have to work hard and find the right horses and trust me seven winners means a lot to me. A lot of people gave me help to get it done. It’s not only me, my agent [PJ. Campo] put in a lot of effort, and the trainers and owners gave me the support to ride the best horses in the grounds. This game is not easy. It’s up and down. I was at the bottom. I was at the top. It’s hard. That’s why I like to enjoy the beautiful moments when you win those kind of races and those beautiful horses they put on a show and the fans and everybody really appreciate them for that.”
What’s next for Arcangelo? With the possibility of being named Horse of the Year, he could be aimed at the Breeders’ Cup, but Antonucci says when the horse runs next depends on . . . Arcangelo.
“Zero,” Antonucci said, standing a few feet away from Arcangelo’s stall when asked how much she thought of a possible Horse of the Year award. “When you let that stuff start defining how you train and how you get a horse to the next goal, that’s when you stub toes. I said from the beginning that our job is to train him and whatever titles come along with that are secondary. We will be grateful and it will be amazing for whatever comes with that, but my focus will be on him. Period.”
“We will have things on the radar, and, obviously, (Breeders’ Cup) is sitting out there,” Antonucci said. “Just want to make sure he is good. He is good today, thank God. We will make sure he is in his space and thriving and we will march steps along and listen to him.”
I have to say that her approach is refreshing. After all, it should be all about what’s good for the horse.