Saratoga Race Course: Travers winner Arcangelo likely will train up to BC Classic

Trainer Jena Antonucci looks after Travers winner Arcangelo at her barn on Sunday morning.

Trainer Jena Antonucci looks after Travers winner Arcangelo at her barn on Sunday morning.

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By Mike MacAdam/The Leader-Herald

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Arcangelo’s responsibilities at trainer Jena Antonucci’s barn at Saratoga Race Course on Sunday amounted to being walked out of his stall and posing for photographers.

He crushed it.

His responsibilities on the racetrack before the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita Park on Nov. 4 likely will amount to simply training up to it.

The son of recent Hall of Fame inductee Arrogate won the 154th Travers on Saturday, and Antonucci said on Sunday morning that they’ll monitor how Arcangelo came out of the race and how he trains in the coming weeks to determine whether he’ll race before the Breeders’ Cup.

If he trains up to the race 10 weeks after the Travers, that would be consistent with how he has been patiently campaigned this season. Since breaking his maiden at Gulfstream Park in March, Arcangelo has raced just three times and won all of them, in the Grade III Peter Pan, Belmont Stakes and Travers.

“In the if-and-what circumstances prior, let’s see how much horse we used in this race,” Antonucci said. “If he needed a tightener to realize the dynamic in California, which might be different than over here, that’s where it’s just being patient and letting him tell us if we need to put that prep in or not. We’ll see.”

Arcangelo will remain in Saratoga indefinitely, unless weather becomes a factor.

As far as coming out of the Travers, Arcangelo was alert and a willing photo subject when Antonucci and her team brought him out of his stall.

“He’s feeling pretty fresh,” she said.

After a run like Arcangelo has been on, it’s natural for connections to consider end-of-year championships when mapping out the remainder of the season.

The way things are shaping up, Arcangelo is the clearcut leader of the 3-year-old male division, especially since the Travers field included Forte, Kentucky Derby winner Mage and Preakness winner National Treasure.

He could also draw strong consideration for Horse of the Year, depending on how he performs in the BC Classic.

Antonucci said none of that will have any bearing on how they approach his race schedule.

“Zero … Zero,” she said. “When you let that stuff define how you train, how you get a horse to the next goals, for me, that’s where you step on your toes. I’ve said from the beginning our job is to train him, and whatever titles come along with that is secondary.

“We will be grateful, and it’ll be amazing with whatever comes with that. My focus will be on him, period.”

When Arcangelo won the Belmont, Antonucci became the first woman to train a winner of any of the three Triple Crown races.

She set the same precedent regarding the Travers, and when the subject came up after the Belmont and again Sunday morning, she smiled and said sarcastically, “I love titles.”

Antonucci also represents the smaller operations that rarely get Grade I-caliber talent, which frequently gravitates toward trainers like Todd Pletcher, Steve Asmussen, Chad Brown, Bill Mott, Brad Cox and Bob Baffert. 

“Anyone that’s a good horseman can train good horses,” Antonucci said. “They just need an opportunity. I will continue to lean on agents and advisors and owners to be brave enough to do things that aren’t conventional or deemed acceptable by the industry.

“Good horsemen and women are everywhere in this sport, and if we keep pushing them down to fill a narrative, then I think every owner and agent is failing in their due diligence. Because it’s not just about them, it’s about this sport and about growing the sport and keeping this sport healthy.”

Antonucci has 10 horses in training and doesn’t expect to significantly expand her operation, even if Arcangelo’s success brings more interest from owners to send her horses.

“We’re going to stay with numbers that we know we’re good at,” she said. “Fiona [Goodwin] and I and Katie [Miranda] and our team enjoy the relationship with each of our horses.

“It’s never been a numbers game for us, so I will likely annually continue to be a sub-20% trainer, because I’m not going to send my third string to a ‘B’ level track to inflate my win percentage. We will continue to stay focused on stewarding every horse that we have the best way that he can.”

Arcangelo’s Travers victory came less than two hours after New York Thunder was euthanized on the track in front of a crowd of 48,292.

The Jorge Delgado-trained New York Thunder was on the verge of winning the Grade I Allen Jerkens, but suffered a catastrophic breakdown around the sixteenth pole.

It was the second horse death of the day and the eighth of the meet from race-related incidents. Nobel broke down during the gallop-out after the finish of the fifth race and was euthanized on the track.

The New York Thunder incident was reminiscent of Whitney Day three weeks prior, when Maple Leaf Mel, named for and trained by Melanie Giddings and owned by Bill Parcells, broke down just before the wire in the Grade I Test in front of a huge crowd.

“I’m extremely aware of everything that happened yesterday, and as I had very clear thoughts that were shared with Melanie, going through what she did with Mel, it’s not much different for Jorge,” Antonucci said.

“This horse deserves his space from what he accomplished yesterday. The challenges deserve their space, to make sure that we continue to move forward and learn from every one of them.”

Contact Mike MacAdam at [email protected]. Follow on X @Mike_MacAdam.

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