NEW YORK (AP) — Arcangelo took the lead at the top of the stretch and won the Belmont Stakes on Saturday, making Jena Antonucci the first female trainer to win the race in its 155 years.
After the horse crossed the finish line, Antonucci doubled over and rested her arm and her head on the back of a chair. She kissed the horse on the nose when it returned to the area in front of the winner’s circle.
Arcangelo finished the 1 1/2-mile race in 2:29.23 and by 1 1/2 lengths in front of favored Fotre, with Tapit Trice third.
“I give all the credit to the horse,” said jockey Javier Castello, who rode Mage to victory in the Kentucky Derby and got this mount when that colt did not run in the Belmont. “This is a wonderful horse. I’m really happy for her, you know, she’s a really good woman. She’s a good horseman.”
The heart-warming victory put a positive note on a Triple Crown series marred by deaths of horses at Churchill Downs in the weeks around the Kentucky Derby and another on Preakness day for trainer Bob Baffert. It also ended a week in which the Belmont Stakes was put in jeopardy by air quality problems caused by wildfires in Canada.
Those cleared on Friday and the cloud over thoroughbred racing lifted on Saturday.
The 47-year-old Antonucci, who started riding show horses as a preschooler and later held a plethora of jobs in racing, became a trainer in 2010, running a modest stable. She had sent less than 2,000 horses to the post in her first 13 years.
All the work paid off in one race.
“Never give up,” said Antonucci, who cried several times in talking with the media. “And if you can’t find a seat at the table, make your own table and build your team and never give up. You’re seen. People see you. Just keep working working your butt off.”
Antonucci was only the 11th woman to race a horse in the Belmont and the first since Kathy Ritvo sent out Mucho Macho Man to a seventh-place finish in 2011. Dianne Carpenter’s Kingpost had the previous best finish, second to Risen Star in 1988.
Arcangelo came into the Belmont off a hard-fought victory in the Peter Pan Stakes.
Arcangelo, who broke from the No. 3 post position, was always close to the lead in the nine-horse field. Preakness winner National Treasure led a group of seven within striking distance after a half, but as the race progressed Arcangelo stayed on the rail and was running head to head with National Treasure on the far turn that leads to the stretch.
By the time they reached the stretch, Arcangelo moved to the front, opened some daylight and never let any horse get closer than the final margin.
“He’s got the heart of a champion,” Antonucci said.
Arcangelo paid $17.80, $7.20 and $4.,90 and earned $900,000 for Blue Rose Farm, which is owned by John Ebbert. Forte returned $4.30 and $3.30 and Tapit Trice was $4.10 to show.
Hit Show finished fourth and was followed by Angel of Empire, National Treasure, Il Miracolo, Red Route One and Tapit Shoes.