Jesus’s Team winning the 2020 Claiming Crown Jewel. Photo by Lauren King
Blue-Collar Millionaire Overcame Serious Physical Obstacles
David Joseph/Maryland Jockey Club
HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – Jesus’ Team has made more than a million dollars the hard way, outgrowing his claiming roots to knock heads with the best horses in training and more than holding his own.
The 5-year-old son of Tapiture will make his unlikely and long-awaited return to action Saturday at Gulfstream Park after a 15-month absence, having called upon the deep reserve of the grit and resilience that had fueled his racing career to overcome serious physical obstacles.
The multiple Grade 1 stakes-placed campaigner will start his comeback in a stakes-quality optional claiming allowance at a mile in Gulfstream’s Race 10.
“I’m very happy run him again after all the problems that he had. It’s been a long, long trip for him,” trainer Jose D’Angelo said. “He’s a warrior. I’m very happy with the way he’s training. I always said, ‘If he’s training good, we’ll go forward.’”
After undergoing surgery to repair a small chip in his left front ankle following a subpar showing in the Alydar Stakes at Saratoga Aug. 6, 2021, Jesus’ Team was afflicted with a nasty case of Salmonella, a bacterial infection from which he recovered, only to subsequently develop laminitis in his two front feet. Through expert care at Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, Ky., the overachieving Kentucky-bred returned to good health, but his racing career clearly remained in jeopardy.
D’Angelo was just happy that Jesus’ Team had survived such an ordeal when he sent him to trainer Kenny McPeek’s Magdalena Farm in Lexington, Ky. to convalesce. After regularly shuttling between South Florida and Magdalena to check up on his prized stable star, D’Angelo brought Jesus’ Team back to his base at Palm Meadows, Gulfstream’s satellite training facility in Palm Beach County, Jan. 29 to resume light training. After impressing his trainer, he was put back into more serious training and continued to flourish during the series of seven workouts leading up to Saturday’s return.
Jesus’ Team broke his maiden at Gulfstream for a $30,000 claiming tag March 18, 2020, before being transferred to D’Angelo, for whom he scored at first asking in a $25,000 claiming race. Two starts later, Jesus’s Team finished a solid fourth behind Authentic, who would go on to be named 2020 Horse of the Year, in the Grade 1 Haskell at Monmouth. The D’Angelo trainee would go on to finish third in the Jim Dandy (G2) and third in the Preakness (G1) before outrunning his 62-1 odds to finish a late-rallying second behind Knicks Go in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1). After tuning up with a victory in the Claiming Crown Jewel, Jesus’s Team would once again finish second behind Knicks Go in the $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1) at Gulfstream.
“For me, this horse means everything. He put me on the map in this country. He let me show my ability as a trainer. He brought me to all the big races and always gave all of his heart in each race,” said D’Angelo, who was the leading trainer in Venezuela before venturing to the U.S. in 2019. “I owe a lot to him.”
Jesus’ Team finished sixth in the $12 million Dubai World Cup Invitational (G1) and finished off-the-board in two subsequent starts before being sidelined and winning his health battles against long odds.
Jesus’ Team will break from the rail post position while making his first start for Sonata Stable in the one-turn mile race, which attracted Super Corinto, an Argentine-bred son of Super Saver who will be making his first U.S. start after capturing the Gran Premio Hipodromo Chile (G1) in his most recent start; Noble Drama, an enduring multiple-stakes winner; as well as stakes winners Sole Volante, Wind of Change and Clapton.
Although Jesus’ Team will have to contend with a strong field, an inside post, and a return from a 15-month layoff, D’Angelo is just happy to have him back at peak health and at the races.
“I think the post position ‘one’ is not good for his first race off the layoff. He doesn’t need the lead. He comes from behind, so we’ll hope for a good start and let him run,” D’Angelo said.
Miguel Vasquez, fresh off his riding title for the spring and summer’s Royal Palm Meet at Gulfstream, is named to ride Jesus’ Team for the first time.