Arcangelo from off-the-pace to notch the win in the Travers (Joe Labozzetta)
By Mary Eddy – NYRA Press Office
SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y.— As is often the case in the Grade 1, $1.25 million Travers, the prestigious 10-furlong route at Saratoga Race Course once again provided clarity on who sits atop the 3-year-old rankings when Grade 1 Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets-winner Arcangelo claimed victory in Saturday’s 154th running of the historic main track test for sophomores.
Arcangelo secured the blanket of carnations with an off-the-pace score under Hall of Famer Javier Castellano, marking yet another milestone for women in horse racing as trainer Jena Antonucci, who became the first woman to train a Triple Crown race winner in this year’s Belmont Stakes, also became the second woman to train a Travers champion. She joins conditioner Mary Hirsch, who sent out Thanksgiving to win in 1938, as women to have claimed a Travers victory.
“The significance of accomplishing anything in any gender at the top of any sport or industry is a gift,” said Antonucci, who celebrated the fourth graded triumph of her career. “It doesn’t come without the team and without every single person on our team. The significance of this is hard to put into words right now. Anyone that wants something bad enough, you just have to work your tail off for it. It doesn’t matter – man, woman, boy, girl – that’s just white noise. If you want it, go fight for it and make it happen for yourself.”
In addition to his trainer’s accomplishments, Arcangelo, owned by Blue Rose Farm, awarded Castellano a record-extending seventh Travers coup, adding to victories with Bernardini , Afleet Express , Stay Thirsty , V.E. Day , Keen Ice  and Catholic Boy .
“I never give up,” said Castellano, who won his first Belmont Stakes this year aboard Arcangelo and his first Grade 1 Kentucky Derby aboard Mage. “I always work hard for moments like this. I’ve been up and down and thank God I’ve been lucky enough to win my seventh Travers. It’s like the Super Bowl for Tom Brady. I’m so blessed to have people supporting me. When people support your career, it’s great.”
The one-length score also made Arcangelo and his sire Arrogate, who won the 2016 Travers in a track-record time of 1:59.36, the 16th father/son pair to win the Travers.
Arcangelo raced for the first time since the June 10 Belmont Stakes, and found his way back to the winner’s circle with a smart ride by Castellano, who angled the gray ridgling off the rail in the final turn to sweep past his rivals and draw clear to a triumph that will likely lead to favoritism for year-end honors at the Eclipse Awards. In victory, Arcangelo defeated Mage and National Treasure, the respective winners of the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby and Grade 1 Preakness, as well as reigning Champion 2-Year-Old Colt Forte.
Antonucci said the 11-week gap between the Belmont and Travers is typical of Arcangelo’s racing schedule as she and owner Jon Ebbert have planned for the late-bloomer.
“It just never was a layoff in my mind with this horse,” said Antonucci. “I understand the traditionalists of this sport are always going to view gaps in that manner. This horse has had his entire career that way because Jon 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 the horse and Jon has respected that in the horse.”
Arcangelo emerged from post 2 in the seven-horse field and was kept along the rail by Castellano as Forte angled out for room from the inside post and Scotland rushed up from the outermost post 7 to assume command over a keen Mage and the often-prominent National Treasure through an opening quarter-mile in 23.46 seconds over a muddy main track.
“It was a little bit rough out of the gate,” Castellano explained. “My horse broke well out of the gate and got a good position but everyone was in a rush and it was a bit tight. The inside horses came out, the outside horses came in.
“We lost a little bit of momentum and position. I didn’t have a choice, everybody outside – it seemed to me that everybody had a plan, except myself,” Castellano added, with a laugh.
Castellano nudged Arcangelo to track closer to the pace entering the backstretch, but took back again once National Treasure moved closer to the pace along the outside under Hall of Famer John Velazquez after a half-mile in 48.10. Midway down the backstretch, Forte was shuffled back to last while the slow-starting Tapit Trice was asked to take up third position to the outside of National Treasure through three-quarters in 1:11.73.
“I saved all the ground the first turn and little by little let it develop,” said Castellano. “On the backside, I saw three horses go to the lead. I saw two horses as my target on my handicapping of the race. I was surprised Tapit Trice [was up there] early in the first stage of the race.”
National Treasure and Tapit Trice came to even terms with Scotland in the middle of the turn, but a patient Castellano remained calm aboard Arcangelo and angled his charge widest of his trio of rivals to loom large exiting the turn. National Treasure backpedaled in between foes with Scotland taking the turn wide, leaving the rail open for a menacing Disarm, who was last at the half-mile call, to gain with giant strides and provide a serious challenge along the inside.
Arcangelo put away a stubborn Scotland passing the eighth pole and drew away strongly down the center of the course while drifting in slightly under right-handed encouragement from Castellano. The hard-trying Disarm gave chase to the inside and kept on well to kick clear of Tapit Trice, but there was no denying the Belmont Stakes champion another illustrious Grade 1 triumph as he crossed the wire first in a final time of 2:02.23
Disarm, who raced with blinkers on for the first time in the afternoon, held place honors by 2 1/2 lengths over Tapit Trice, with the latter’s Todd Pletcher-trained stablemate and post-time favorite Forte another 4 1/2 lengths back in fourth after chasing widest of all down the lane under Irad Ortiz, Jr. National Treasure, Scotland and Mage completed the order of finish.
Castellano added that Arcangelo felt like a winner as he coasted down the backstretch.
“I feel like on the backside I had so much horse, I could blow by and open up by 10 and I just took my time and let him develop,” he said. “I put him outside, enjoyed my ride and very lucky and thankful and blessed you guys gave me the opportunity and a lot of confidence to ride the horse and working together every single step. Working horses in the morning built a lot of confidence in the horse. It seems to me he’s a super horse. Keep our fingers crossed, keep him sound. All the credit to Jena. She does such a good job with the horses.”
Bred in Kentucky by Don Alberto Corporation, Arcangelo has proven one of the greatest bargain buys in recent memory, now boasting $1,754,900 in total purse earnings after Ebbert spent just $35,000 on the ridgling at the 2021 Keeneland September Yearling Sale. In addition to the Belmont Stakes, Arcangelo won Belmont’s Grade 3 Peter Pan this May and graduated at third asking in March at Gulfstream Park. He returned $7.40 for a $2 win ticket.
“Unbelievable job by Jena,” said Ebbert. “A lot of people were counting us out because of the 11 weeks, but we did the right thing.”
Jockey Joel Rosario attempted to guide Disarm to a third Grade 1 victory on the card for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen after the conditioner won the Grade 1 Forego with Gunite and the Grade 1 Ballerina Handicap with Echo Zulu. Rosario said Arcangelo was simply too good to catch.
“Turning for home, I kind of waited a little bit, but that horse came in a little bit. I made my way in there [inside] which was OK, he ran a big race,” said Rosario, who piloted Epicenter to victory for Asmussen in last year’s Travers. “For a second I thought maybe [we would get there]. But that horse kind of at that point got the jump on us. And for a second, oh maybe we are going to get him, but he kept moving. But that was a good performance from him I think.”
Mike Repole, co-owner of Forte, admitted Arcangelo now reigns supreme in the 3-year-old division over his six-time graded stakes-winner.
“Arcangelo ran great. That’s two wins in a row. He ran great. Forte broke great and was in the spot I thought he wanted to be,” said Repole. “I don’t know if Arcangelo wanted that spot more or if Irad wanted to be more off the pace. He sat back patiently and at the top of the stretch I thought we were going to circle the field and make a good run at it, and I think he just leveled out. It’s a deep track, obviously, but the best horse won.”
As for what’s next for Arcangelo, Antonucci said she anticipates her stable star will continue to defy the historical norm wherever he goes.
“I guess the more this horse does, the more we’re going to keep writing some history,” Antonucci said. “Again, just immense gratitude for all this and this horse, most importantly.”