Jena Antonucci made Triple Crown history at Belmont Park last Saturday (June 10).
When lightly raced Arcangelo won last Saturday’s 1 1/2-mile Belmont at odds of 7-1, it marked the first time that a female trainer had won any of the Triple Crown races in the more than 100 years that the three events for 3-year-olds have existed.
It took until the 452nd Triple Crown race, as John Cherwa noted for the Los Angeles Times, for Antonucci to break through with a victory in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes or Belmont Stakes.
“It’s the horse and I am so grateful,” Antonucci said. “I will forever be indebted to his honesty for us, his heart, and he is why you get up seven days a week. I didn’t get a lot of sleep the last few nights, I’m not going to lie. I’m so grateful.”
Any way you slice it, the 47-year-old Antonucci has done nothing less than an outstanding training job with Arcangelo.
Using various media guides as sources, I have compiled a list of the female trainers who have sent out a horse to finish first, second or third in a Triple Crown race:
Finish Trainer (Horse, Year Triple Crown Race)
1st Jena Antonucci (Arcangelo, 2023 Belmont)
2nd Dianne Carptenter (Kingpost, 1988 Belmont)
2nd Shelley Riley (Casual Lies, 1992 Kentucky Derby)
2nd Nancy Alberts (Magic Weisner, 2002 Preakness)
3rd Shelley Riley (Casual Lies, 1992 Preakness)
3rd Kristin Mulhall (Imperialism, 2004 Kentucky Derby)
3rd Kathy Ritvo (Mucho Macho Man, 2011 Kentucky Derby)
3rd Linda Rice (Max Player, 2020 Belmont)
Antonucci’s historic win as a trainer with Arcangelo comes 16 years after Rags to Riches, in an equine exhibition of girl power, became the first filly to win the Belmont Stakes in 102 years when she defeated future Hall of Famer Curlin in a photo finish.
Speaking of Rags to Riches, Arcangelo’s dam, the unraced Modeling, is a granddaughter of the extraordinary broodmare Better Than Honour, who produced back-to-back Belmont Stakes winners Jazil in 2006 and Rags to Riches in 2007.
“Modeling, bred by Hill ‘n’ Dale and Edward McGhee, sports a pedigree that made her a $2.85 million purchase by Don Alberto Corp -- which bred Arcangelo --out of the 2014 Keeneland November breeding stock sale, even without a racing record,” Daily Racing Form’s Nicole Russo wrote this week.
Modeling is a half-sister to Grade I winner Streaming and stakes winners Cascading and Treasuring.
Antonucci’s Belmont victory with Arcangelo comes 30 years after Julie Krone made history by becoming the first -- and still only -- female jockey to win a Triple Crown race. She guided Colonial Affair to a 2 1/4-length victory in the 1993 Belmont Stakes.
Krone also is one of two female jockeys to ever finish second in a Triple Crown race. She finished second aboard Star Standard in the 1995 Belmont.
Rosie Napravnik, whose riding ability I raved about on HRTV back when she was an apprentice in Maryland in 2005, is the only female jockey to ever finish third in a Triple Crown race. She finished third on Mylute in the 2013 Preakness.
Antonucci’s momentous Belmont Stakes victory with Arcangelo comes 50 years after “Secretariat made Penny Chenery the First Lady of Thoroughbred racing,” as Daily Racing Form’s David Grening put it.
Chenery, known in 1973 as Penny Tweedy, headed the Meadow Stable operation. She made Triple Crown history by becoming the first -- and still only -- female owner-breeder of a Triple Crown winner. Her Secretariat gave millions watching on TV goosebumps when he won the Belmont Stakes by 31 lengths in 2:24. That final time destroyed Gallant Man’s track record by 2 3/5 seconds.
Secretariat’s 2:24 clocking set “a record that may stand forever,” as race-caller Chic Anderson said immediately after the 1973 Belmont Stakes on the CBS telecast. Indeed, half a century later still no one has ever come close to Secretariat’s mind-boggling mark.
Easy Goer and A.P. Indy are the two to have come the closest to Secretariat’s 2:24. Easy Goer in 1989 and A.P. Indy in 1992 won the Belmont in 2:26. That means that while Easy Goer and A.P. Indy have run the second-fast Belmont in its 115-year history, Secretariat would have defeated each of them by about 10 lengths.
Arcangelo’s final time in the Belmont was 2:29 1/5 (2:29.23 in hundredths). That would have been good enough for Arcangelo to finish a distant second in Secretariat’s Belmont. Arcangelo would have finished about 26 lengths behind the great Bold Ruler colt when he won the “Test of the Champion” in what is widely considered to be the greatest performance in American racing history.
BEYER SPEED FIGURES CONTINUE TO RISE
Arcangelo recorded a 102 Beyer Speed Figure for his Belmont victory. An improving Beyer pattern like his is not often seen.
After logging just a 53 Beyer on a sloppy track at first asking in a Gulfstream Park maiden sprint Dec. 17, Arcangelo has recorded figures of 70, 84, 97 and 102.
Arcangelo’s 97 Beyer came when he won the Grade III Peter Pan Stakes by a head at 1 1/8 miles in his stakes debut at Belmont on May 13.
Below are Beyer Speed Figures for winners of the Belmont going back to 1990 (the first year they were listed in the American Racing Manual):
2023 Arcangelo (102)
2022 Mo Donegal (98)
2021 Essential Quality (109)
2020 Tiz the Law (100)*
2019 Sir Winston (95)
2018 Justify (101)
2017 Tapwrit (103)
2016 Creator (99)
2015 American Pharoah (105)
2014 Tonalist (100)
2013 Palace Malice (98)
2012 Union Rags (96)
2011 Ruler On Ice (100)
2010 Drosselmeyer (94)
2009 Summer Bird (100)
2008 Da’ Tara (99)
2007 Rags to Riches (107)
2006 Jazil (102)
2005 Afleet Alex (106)
2004 Birdstone (101)
2003 Empire Maker (110)
2002 Sarava (105)
2001 Point Given (114)
2000 Commendable (101)
1999 Lemon Drop Kid (109)
1998 Victory Gallop (110)
1997 Touch Gold (110)
1996 Editor’s Note (106)
1995 Thunder Gulch (101)
1994 Tabasco Cat (106)
1993 Colonial Affair (104)
1992 A.P. Indy (111)
1991 Hansel (111)
1990 Go and Go (111)
*Run at 1 1/8 miles
Secretariat’s 1973 Belmont predates published Beyer Speed Figures. Andy Beyer once wrote that he retroactively calculated what Secretariat’s figure would have been for the Belmont. It would have been a 139.
CASTELLANO FINALLY WINS A BELMONT
After this year’s Preakness Stakes, I wrote for Xpressbet.com that “it would seem to be a good idea to pay attention to any jockey in the June 10 Belmont Stakes who will be trying to end some sort for 0-for-something situation.”
Javier Castellano, 45, had been 0 for 15 in the Kentucky Derby before winning this year’s renewal aboard Mage.
John Velazquez, 51, had been 0 for 12 in the Preakness before winning this year’s renewal on National Treasure.
Castellano had been 0 for 14 going into last Saturday’s Belmont. He then won this year’s renewal aboard Arcangelo.
Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2017, Castellano last Saturday became the first jockey to win Triple Crown races in the same year with different horses since Calvin Borel did it in 2009. Borel won the Kentucky Derby that year on Mine That Bird, then captured the Preakness aboard Rachel Alexandra. Mine That Bird, ridden by Hall of Famer Mike Smith, finished second in the Preakness.
Arcangelo is three for three with Castellano. They collaborated for victories in a maiden race at Gulfstream Park on March 18, the Peter Pan and then the Belmont.
Looking ahead, Castellano could have a tough decision to make if Mage and Arcangelo run in the same race, which is a distinct possibility.
“They’re both good horses. I think we’ll wait as long as we can” in terms of making a decision as to which one to ride, if it comes to that, Castellano told the DRF’s Grening.
Thanks to Arcangelo, Castellano has now won all three jewels of the Triple Crown. In addition to this year’s Kentucky Derby and Belmont victories, Castellano won the Preakness in 2006 aboard Bernardini and in 2017 on Cloud Computing.
GROUND-SAVING TRIP BENEFICIAL
Castellano gets an A+ for his ride on Arcangelo in the Belmont. The way I see it, Arcangelo might not have won if not for Castellano’s exquisite ground-saving ride.
Arcangelo was third early, just a length off the pace, while National Treasure and Tapit Shoes were dueling for the early lead. The fractional time for the opening quarter-mile was :23.63.
A half-mile into the race, National Treasure was leading by one length in :47.69. By this time, Arcangelo had been shuffled back to sixth, but he was only 2 1/2 lengths off the lead.
National Treasure led by one length when completing the first six furlongs in 1:12.56. Midway on the same far turn in which Secretariat was moving like a tremendous machine 50 years ago, National Treasure still was in front by a length or so. But racing right behind him were Tapit Trice (four wide), Angel of Empire (three wide), Hit Show (two wide) and Arcangelo (on the inside of the four-horse spread). At this point, 2-1 favorite Forte was sixth, some six lengths off the pace, and appeared to be struggling.
Turning for home, Arcangelo moved up willingly along the rail to engage National Treasure for the lead. This was a key point in the race, because while Arcangelo was saving ground, Tapit Trice was racing wide and Forte even wider.
National Treasure and Arcangelo were battling for command coming to the top of stretch. Arcangelo then bounded well clear in upper stretch. After passing the eighth pole with a 3 1/2-length lead, Arcangelo went on to prevail by 1 1/2 lengths. Forte, trained by Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher, nosed out the fellow Pletcher-trained Tapit Trice, off at 5-1, for second place in the field of nine.
Angel of Empire and Hit Show ended up in a dead heat for fourth. They were followed across the finish line in order by National Treasure, Il Miracolo, Red Route One and Tapit Shoes.
Antonucci rode show horses as a young girl and spent time working for legendary trainer D. Wayne Lukas before taking out her trainer’s license in 2010.
That means the first three finishers in this year’s Belmont Stakes had trainers who once worked for Lukas. Before Pletcher embarked on his training career in 1995, he worked as an assistant to Lukas for five years.
Considering how wide Forte and Tapit Shoes raced and that they each lost by 1 1/2 lengths last Saturday, it’s seems fair to say that a case can be made that either might have won if able to enjoy a ground-saving trip a la Arcangelo.
This was an especially admirable effort by Forte in defeat. At the top of the stretch, you no doubt thought you were going to lose if you had a show parlay riding on Forte when he was sixth and about six lengths off the lead. But even though he raced so wide into the lane and was coming off a 10-week layoff, Forte managed to finish second while losing for only the second time in eight lifetime starts.
Forte was the 5-2 morning-line favorite in the Kentucky Derby. However, he was scratched the morning of the race due to a bruised right front foot. Forte then effectively had no opportunity to run in the Preakness two weeks later because of being placed on the 14-day vet’s list the day of the Derby. That meant tht Pletcher had to train Forte up to Belmont Stakes without the colt having started since his win in the Grade I Florida Derby on April 1.
I wrote last week that “I now have renewed respect for Forte following the results of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. That’s because the horses to win those two legs of the Triple Crown flattered Forte. Kentucky Derby winner Mage lost both times he faced Forte in Florida this year. Preakness winner National Treasure finished third when Forte won the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last November to clinch an Eclipse Award as champion 2-year-old male.”
Even though Forte didn’t win the Belmont, I have even more respect for him than ever before after he ran as well as he did under the circumstances to finish second.
UNPLANNED WORKOUT ON JUNE 6 WAS A CLUE
After Arcangelo worked five furlongs in 1:02.81 at Belmont Park on May 31, Equibase credited him with a bullet four-furlong workout -- that evidently was unplanned -- in :48.94 there on June 6, just four days before the Belmont.
According to the DRF’s Grening, Antonucci had intended for Arcangelo to gallop on June 6 rather than have a workout.
“Tuesday’s seemingly unplanned workout was faster than Arcangelo’s actual five-furlong move on May 31 [when timed in 1:03.13 and out a mile in 1:41.38 by the DRF],” Grening wrote.
“Spooky,” Grening quoted Antonucci as saying of the June 6 breeze. “That’s just him. It’s his journey, we are trying to stay out of his way. Today, he wanted to stretch his legs, and stretch his lungs. He’s a very good-feeling colt.”
The DRF’s Mike Welch also wrote about Arcangelo’s June 6 workout.
“Peter Pan winner Arcangelo, who has come a long way in a relatively short time, was not expected to have another official workout after breezing a very easy five furlongs in 1:03.13 followed by a powerful gallop-out (one mile in 1:41.38) under jockey Javier Castellano last Wednesday. But with his regular exercise Robert Mallari aboard, Arcangelo dropped to the rail at the five-eighths pole and pretty much duplicated that drill after the renovation break this morning.”
Whereas the DRF timed Arcangelo going on out a mile in 1:41.38 in the five-furlong workout on May 31, the gray ridgling was clocked going on out a mile in 1:40.40 on June 6, indicating that he might run a big race in the Belmont Stakes.
A BARGAIN-BASEMENT YEARLING PURCHASE
Arcangelo races for Jon Ebbert (Blue Rose Farm). Ebbert bought the future Belmont Stakes winner for just $35,000 as a yearling at Keeneland. Three days after Arcangelo’s Belmont Stakes victory, which boosted his career earnings to $1,067,400, Ebbert celebrated his 40th birthday.
FIRST CLASSIC WINNER FOR ARROGATE
Arcangelo is by the late Arrogate, the Eclipse Award-winning 3-year-old male of 2016 who was elected to the Hall of Fame this year in his first year of eligibility.
In June 2020, Arrogate died after developing an illness that led to neurological symptoms. Arcangelo is from the second of what will be Arrogate’s only three crops.
“With every passing month, the loss of champion Arrogate early in his stallion career becomes starker,” Daily Racing Form’s Nicole Russo wrote this week. “It was apparent again Saturday evening, as Arcangelo won the Belmont Stakes, conferring classic sire status on Arrogate posthumously.”
Arrogate put together a seven-race winning streak from June 5, 2016, through March 25, 2017. During this marvelous skein, the Unbridled’s Song colt won four consecutive Grade I or Group I events -- the Travers Stakes, Breeders’ Cup Classic, Pegasus World Cup and Dubai World Cup.
Writing for Xpressbet.com, I characterized Arrogate’s Travers as Secretariat-like. When Arrogate won the Travers by 13 1/2 lengths, the similarities to Secretariat’s victory in the 1973 Kentucky Derby were striking, such as:
Secretariat’s final time was 1:59 and change (1:59 2/5). So was Arrogate’s (1:59 1/5).
Secretariat broke the track record. So did Arrogate.
Secretariat ran his final quarter-mile in :23 and change. So did Arrogate.
Secretariat defeated 12 foes. So did Arrogate.
In the Kentucky Derby, Secretariat broke a track record that had stood for nine years. In the Travers, Arrogate broke a track record that had stood for 37 years.
The early pace set by Arrogate in the Travers was quicker than that set by Shecky Greene in the 1973 Kentucky Derby. Yet Arrogate still was able to run his final quarter in the Travers in an excellent :23 4/5.
Arrogate’s final time in fifths of 1:59 1/5 shaved four-fifths of a second off the track record set by General Assembly (a son of Secretariat) when he splashed his way to a 15-length victory in the 1979 Travers on a sloppy track.
One can get a sense of just how fantastic Arrogate’s Travers performance was by comparing his individual splits to those by Secretariat in the 1973 Kentucky Derby.
First quarter: Secretariat :25 1/5, Arrogate :23 1/5. Arrogate ran the first quarter approximately 10 lengths faster.
First half: Secretariat :49 1/5, Arrogate :46 4/5. Arrogate ran the first half approximately 12 lengths faster.
Final time: Secretariat 1:59 2/5, Arrogate 1:59 1/5. Arrogate completed the 1 1/4 miles approximately one length faster.
There is still another reason Arrogate’s Travers probably was better than Secretariat’s in the Kentucky Derby. Secretariat had much more experience.
When Secretariat ran in the Kentucky Derby, he was making his 13th career start and 10th start in a stakes race. When Arrogate ran in the Travers, he was making only his fifth career start and -- remarkably -- his first start in a stakes race.
Arrogate ranks No. 4 on my list of the Top 100 Thoroughbreds of the 21st century so far to have won in North America:
2. American Pharoah*
7. Rachel Alexandra
9. Shared Belief
10. California Chrome
12. Gun Runner
14. Wise Dan
15. Point Given
20. Smarty Jones
23. Lava Man
24. Bricks and Mortar
25. Rags to Riches
26. Candy Ride
28. Pleasantly Perfect
29. Kona Gold
31. Saint Liam
33. Ouija Board
34. Life Is Good
35. Knicks Go
38. Essential Quality
39. Afleet Alex
41. Monomoy Girl
42. Xtra Heat
43. Game On Dude
44. Mucho Macho Man
45. Empire Maker
48. I’ll Have Another
49. Kitten’s Joy
50. Roses in May
51. Blind Luck
52. Havre de Grace
53. Royal Delta
54. Big Brown
55. Lost in the Fog
56. Midnight Bisou
57. Cape Blanco
58. Gio Ponti
59. Lookin At Lucky
60. English Channel
61. Medaglia d’Oro
62. Tiz the Law
63. Midnight Lute
64. Street Sense
65. Discreet Cat
66. Lawyer Ron
70. Quality Road
71. Fantastic Light
73. High Chaparral
74. Lady Eli
75. Funny Cide
76. Rock Hard Ten
77. Raven’s Pass
78. Maximum Security
81. Unique Bella
82. Uncle Mo
83. City of Light
86. Groupie Doll
87. Lemon Drop Kid
91. Lido Palace
95. Fort Larned
96. Street Cry
97. Left Bank
98. Vino Rosso
99. Animal Kingdom
100. Roy H
BIG WEEKEND FOR TAPIT AND CURLIN
Curlin, the two-time Horse of the Year (2007-08) who ranks No. 6 on my Top 100 Thoroughbreds of the 21st century so far to have won in North America, was the sire of three graded stakes winners -- Elite Power, Clairiere and Cody’s Wish --on last Saturday’s Belmont Park card.
Elite Power won the Grade II True North Stakes, his seventh straight victory. Clairiere took the Grade I Ogden Phipps Stakes, a race her dam, Cavorting, won in 2016. Cody’s Wish captured the Grade I Met Mile, which extending his winning streak to six.
Cody’s Wish is No. 1, Elite Power is No. 2 and Clairiere is No. 3 in this week’s NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll, which is quite an accomplishment for Curlin.
If either Tapit Trice or Tapit Shoes had won last Saturday, it would have been Tapit’s fifth Belmont Stakes victory. Tapit would have broken a tie with Lexington of the 1880s as the sire with the most Belmont Stakes wins.
Though neither Tapit Trice nor Tapit Shoes won last Saturday, Arcangelo provided Tapit with his first Belmont Stakes victory as a broodmare sire.
In fact, it was a terrific weekend for Tapit as a broodmare sire. He also is the broodmare sire of the aforementioned Grade I Met Mile victor Cody’s Wish and Grade I Acorn Stakes winner Pretty Mischievous. Pretty Mischievous went into the Acorn off a victory in the Grade I Kentucky Oaks.
Tapit’s four Belmont Stakes winners were Tonalist (2014), Creator (2016), Tapwrit (2017) and Essential Quality (2021). Lexington’s four winners of this race were General Duke (1868), Kingfisher (1870), Harry Bassett (1871) and Duke of Magenta (1878).
Tapit also has sired Belmont Stakes runners-up Frosted (2015) and Tacitus (2019), plus third-place finishers Lani (2016), Hofbrug (2018) and Tapit Trice (2023).
A TRIO OF WINNERS LIGHT ON EXPERIENCE
Mage won this year’s Kentucky Derby in just his fourth career start. Arcangelo won the Belmont Stakes in his fifth career start. National Treasure won the Preakness in his sixth career start.
Citation won the 1948 Kentucky Derby in his 17th career start while on his way to sweeping the Triple Crown.
And as mentioned earlier, Secretariat began his 1973 Triple Crown sweep by winning the Kentucky Derby in his 13 career start.
My, how times have changed.
WILL MEYERS PASSES AWAY
It was with much sadness last Sunday afternoon that I learned the news from Santa Anita assistant clerk of the scales Charlie McCaul that longtime racing official Will Meyers had passed away Saturday (June 9) at the age of 69.
According to Daily Racing Form’s Steve Andersen, friends said this week that Meyers died of pulmonary fibrosis after undergoing open heart surgery in April.
A winner’s circle ceremony honoring Meyers was held Sunday at Golden Gate Fields. Also Sunday, Santa Anita paid tribute to him by holding a moment of silence between races.
Meyers, who grew up in California, came from a racing family. His father was a racing secretary and a steward.
“When I was a boy we lived in Arcadia, then Coronado, and on weekends I would go down to Caliente [in Tijuana, Mexico] to groom and pony horses,” Meyers once said. “Later, I worked as a stewards’ aide in Stockton, Sacramento and Ferndale.”
Meyers rose through the ranks of racing officials to become a steward for the first time in 1984. He was highly respected, particularly by his colleagues, as evidenced by comments made to Andersen by three of Meyers’ fellow stewards through the years, Grant Baker, Luis Jauregui and John Herbuveaux.
Baker noted that Meyers was “a good listener” and possessed “a wealth of knowledge.”
“He was all about fairness,” Jauregui said.
Herbuveaux described Meyers’ demeanor as being “smooth and steady.”
“You could count on him to make the right decision and the tough one when it wasn’t popular,” Herbuveaux said. “He didn’t let outside factors get to him. He didn’t play the political game. He was a good man and a good steward.”
I am grateful to California chief steward Darrel McHargue for assigning me to work as a steward alongside Meyers on a number of occasions.
Meyers not only was congenial, he more importantly was a man of integrity.
It was especially a pleasure to work with Meyers in the rather cramped stewards’ stand during the Humboldt Country Fair meet in Ferndale. I can attest that his extensive experience at that half-mile oval in Northern California was quite valuable.
“He had a passion for the fairs,” Baker said.
While chatting with Meyers between races one afternoon at Ferndale, he mentioned that he was working as a placing judge at Arlington Park the day that Secretariat won the 1973 Arlington Invitational in his first start after his incredible 31-length Belmont Stakes victory.
Secretariat’s three opponents in the Arlington Invitational were Blue Chip Dan, My Gallant and Our Native. The race had win betting only. Even though Secretariat’s three foes had no common ownership and three different trainers, the track took the highly unusual step of combining Blue Chip Dan, My Gallant and Our Native into a mutuel field in the win pool. Secretariat was bet down to 1-20 favoritism, while the three-horse mutuel field was sent away at 5-1.
With regular jockey Ron Turcotte in the saddle, Secretariat cruised to a nine-length victory in 1:47 flat, which was just one-fifth of a second off the track record set by Damascus in 1967.
“Putting Secretariat’s number up there on the tote board as the winner of that race at Arlington is something that I’ll never forget,” Meyers said.
TOP 10 IN THIS WEEK’S NTRA TOP THOROUGHBRED POLL
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 364 Cody’s Wish (32)
2. 318 Elite Power (5)
3. 256 Clairiere
4. 162 It Italian
5. 160 Defunded
6. 153 Up to the Mark
7. 138 Caravel
8. 126 Proxy
9. 87 Smile Happy
10. 86 Art Collector
FINAL NTRA TOP THREE-YEAR-OLD POLL
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 332 Forte (17)
2. 258 Arcangelo (7)
3. 311 Mage (9)
4. 209 National Treasure
5. 182 Two Phil’s (2)
6. 154 Arabian Lion (1)
7. 146 Tapit Trice
8. 104 Angel of Empire
9. 92 Pretty Mischievous (1)
10. 54 Blazing Sevens
Inasmuch as this is the final NTRA Top Three-Year-Old Poll of 2023, these were the other horses receiving votes this week: Practical Move (40 points), Disarm (37), Hit Show (28), First Mission (6), Geaux Rocket Ride (6), Maple Leaf Mel (5), Wet Paint (4), Extra Anejo (3), Nobals (3), Nagirroc (2), Bishops Bay (2), Kalik (1), Taxed (1), Verifying (1).