Arcangelo, with jockey Javier Castellano, crosses the finish line to...

Arcangelo, with jockey Javier Castellano, crosses the finish line to win the Belmont Stakes, Saturday, June 10, 2023, at Belmont Park in Elmont. Credit: John Roca

Little has overwhelmed Jena Antonucci, who worked as an equine veterinary assistant for four and a half years and then under Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas before opening her own stable in 2010.

Now she will forever be known as the first female trainer to win a Triple Crown race thanks to Arcangelo’s 11/2 length victory in the 155th running of the $1.5 million 11/2-mile Belmont Stakes on Saturday.

Well, maybe that is a little overwhelming.

“They say there’s no crying in baseball,” the 47-year-old Antonucci said, fighting back tears when asked to put her achievement in perspective. “They never said it about horse racing.”

There was no Triple Crown this year as a different horse won each of the three legs. But Saturday’s Belmont – which celebrated the 50th anniversary of Triple Crown-winner Secretariat’s record-setting run – was still one for the history books.

The 7-1 Arcangelo, making his Triple Crown debut in a nine-horse field with Javier Castellano aboard, rallied from sixth at the half-mile mark to overcome Preakness-winner National Treasure in the stretch and ultimately hold off Todd Pletcher’s 2-1 favorite Forte in 2:29.23. Pletcher’s second horse, Tapit Trice, finished third.

Trainer Jena Antonucci lifts the trophy alongside jockey Javier Castellano after Archangelo...

Trainer Jena Antonucci lifts the trophy alongside jockey Javier Castellano after Archangelo wins the 155th running of the Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park in Elmont. June 10, 2023. Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara

“Probably just overcoming the adversities,” the Florida-based Antonucci said of what the victory means. “You go through your career and you can take it on the chin and you fight for that spot. You feel you have to prove your worth and horses don’t care. They don’t care who you are.

“It’s an amazing gift. I am immensely grateful. And a lot of stars have aligned. This crazy guy [owner Jon Ebbert of Blue Rose Farm] gave the girl a chance. Because his phone rang and rang. ‘Move the horse. We’re going to buy the horse. Give it to the guys.’ No offense to them, I love them all, they’re good to me. But he gave a girl a chance.”

Arcangelo was purchased for $35,000 as a yearling and has now won three straight starts.

Ebbert confirmed he and Antonucci have fielded plenty of inquiries to buy the horse, which would have meant moving him to a different stable and away from Antonucci.

But Ebbert wanted no part of that. In fact, he confessed he used Antonucci “as a buffer,” forcing her to field the calls.

“She’s very detail oriented,” Ebbert said. “She’s very trustworthy. She’s so personable. We’re friends. Most trainers I’ve had in the past, we haven’t had a personal relationship.

“She just has the best team and she’s just an amazing person and she will try her best for each owner. I don’t think it’s the same with bigger trainers. With Jena, every owner is like her friend and she treats them all with the highest respect and gratitude and I can’t say anymore.”

Antonucci, in her 13th year as a trainer, is the 11th woman to saddle a horse for the Belmont Stakes.

“It doesn’t fall on deaf ears,” Antonucci told Newsday earlier this week about the opportunity to run a horse in the Belmont. “It’s a Triple Crown race. It’s got such an amazing history and we have so much amazing history in the sport. To have that opportunity and to be a little blip on that radar is pretty, pretty special.”

It was noted to Antonucci following Saturday’s victory that girls may now look up to her as a role model and if she had any message to them.

That did not make her comfortable.

“That’s a big title,” Antonucci said. “I don’t like titles. Everyone in my inner circle will tell you I’m not good on titles. [But] surround yourself with great people. Learn from every mistake. Be a student of life and learn. Lean into your family. Lean into your circle.”
Arcangelo also won the Grade 3 Peter Pan at Belmont on May 13, making him the first horse since Tonalist in 2014 to win both that Belmont prep race and the Belmont.

But Antonucci said it was too soon to tell where Arcangelo will be pointed next.

“He just ran his eyeballs out for us,” Antonucci said. “He just passed some pretty fancy horses in the stretch. We’ll let him tell us.”

Castellano completed his personal Triple Crown after winning the Kentucky Derby aboard Mage on May 6.

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