Author: Lindsay Griffin
To be sure, this year’s Belmont Stakes was one for the history books.
When Jena Antonucci became the first woman to (officially) train the winner of a Triple Crown race, she stole the hearts of racing fans everywhere. The small-time trainer who hails from Ocala, Florida, wore her heart on her sleeve while watching her magnificent gray colt power across the finish line, and the emotion was palpable. It was a true highlight in a racing year that has been marred by tragedy and controversy.
However, Antonucci is not the only hero of this story; indeed, she would never have made the headlines were it not for the beautiful colt she developed into a powerhouse, no one would know her name.
How did Arcangelo become one of the greatest Cinderella stories in recent racing history? Let’s look at his fantastic career as he prepares to cap it in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Arcangelo will likely be the favorite for the Classic! To keep tabs on all of the latest Breeders’ Cup odds, visit here: twinspires.com/breeders-cup/odds
Like the fictional Cinderella, Arcangelo actually comes from a royal line. His sire, Arrogate, was Horse of the Year in his heyday and a Breeders’ Cup Classic winner in his own right. His dam, Modeling, is a daughter of Tapit, the greatest modern source of dirt-favoring stamina. Modeling is also from the female family of legendary broodmare Better Than Honour, who produced back-to-back Belmont Stakes winners Jazil (2006) and Rags to Riches (2007).
However, as a yearling, Arcangelo had less-than-perfect conformation. He was also a ridgeling, meaning that one of his testicles had failed to descend, which can in some cases lead to health or fertility issues. These undesirable features, combined with Arrogate being an unproven sire, led to the ridgeling being overlooked by most buyers. Antonucci and buyer Jon Ebbert were able to secure him for a paltry $35,000 at the 2021 Keeneland September Sale, a sale in which equine price tags routinely pass the million-dollar mark.
Compared to other prominent members of his crop, such as Forte and National Treasure, Arcangelo was slow to come to hand. He did not make it to the starting gate until December 17th of his two-year-old year, when he finished second in a six-furlong maiden special weight at Gulfstream Park. He followed that with a fourth-place finish a month later. While neither of these races were necessarily bad, especially when considering Arcangelo was young and inexperienced, they did not paint him as any sort of championship contender.
That was all about to change.
Arcangelo stretched out to a mile on March 18th, and it all seemed to come together for him. Although he faced some contact from other horses in the field, he pushed through and won by daylight.
The Road to the Kentucky Derby was already well underway, and obtaining enough points to secure a position in that race would have necessitated Antonucci to push Arcangelo up in class faster than she was comfortable with. Instead, she paved the way to the Belmont Stakes by winning the Grade III Peter Pan Stakes in mid-May, stamping Arcangelo as a legitimate contender for the Test of the Champion.
Most of the focus leading up to the Belmont was on the matchup between Forte, Angel of Empire, and National Treasure. Arcangelo was dismissed at odds of 7-1. However, as the field turned for home, Arcangelo’s stamina-laden pedigree shone through, and he powered across the finish line and into immortality.
The ridgeling had proven himself to be a good horse, many experts conceded, but most thought that his victory was part fluke, part a result of being a twelve-furlong specialist. The ten-furlong Grade I Travers Stakes- a race the same distance as the upcoming Breeders’ Cup Classic- would settle the question of divisional leader.
And so it did- for Arcangelo. Once again, Forte fielded the bulk of the pre-race hype, and once again Arcangelo proved himself the better of the two.
Now Arcangelo faces his greatest test, as he will challenge not only members of his crop but older horses, including the impressive Grade I Whitney Stakes winner White Abarrio. Will Arcangelo’s rise to glory continue? Watch the Breeders’ Cup Classic on November 3rd to find out!