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How Jena Antonucci Made Her Own Table (and Won a Triple Crown Race in the Process)

By: Erin Hughes

Edited By: Kylie Augis

Jena Antonucci: a name that will go down in history. On Saturday, June 10th, Antonucci became the first female horse trainer to win a triple crown race when her colt, Arcangelo, came across the line to finish first in the 155th running of the Belmont Stakes.

The Belmont Stakes had no shortage of talented horses, jockeys, and trainers. Tapit Trice, Hit Show, and Angel of Empire all competed in the Kentucky Derby (with Forte being a day-of scratch for the Derby) and National Treasure and Red Route One competed in the Preakness Stakes with National Treasure grabbing the win and the $900,000 purse just a few weeks ago.

Arcangelo seemingly came out of nowhere. The colt has only started five races in his short career, having three wins and one second place finish. Jena Antonucci was chosen as the horse’s trainer shortly after Jon Ebbert purchased the horse. Antonucci is a small stable owner, so she had never garnered as much attention as trainers like Bob Baffert and Todd Pletcher. Antonucci has been successful in her 10 year career, winning over 160 races in almost 2,000 starts and collecting over $7 million.

Courtesy of Seth Wenig, Associated Press Photo

Arcangelo had never been entered into a Triple Crown race, but had run at Belmont Park before, in early May, during the Peter Pan Stakes. This previous race was only 1 1/8 miles long while the Belmont Stakes is 1 1/2 miles long. Because of the quarter mile difference, Arcangelo was going to need to dig deep to stay on the pace just to finish in the top five. Forte, although he had not competed since the Florida Derby in April, was the odds-on favorite to win the Belmont, after a 10 week layoff. Through the first 3/4 mile, it looked as though National Treasure was going to pull away with the last Triple Crown race win of the season as he led up until the last turn. The main battle was between National Treasure, Tapit Trice, Forte, and Angel of Empire, until National Treasure left a gap on the inside just big enough for jockey Javier Castellano to power through on Arcangelo.

Through the last 1/2 mile, the gap between Arcangelo and the rest of the pack started increasing, as National Treasure dropped back to finish the race in sixth place. As Arcangelo crossed the line 1 1/2 lengths ahead of Forte in second place, Belmont Park erupted as Arcangelo, Javier Castellano, and Jena Antonucci made history. Going into this season, Javier Castello was 0-29 at the Belmont Stakes and the Kentucky Derby, leaving him without a win in two of the three Triple Crown races. Now, Castellano is 2-31. Winning with Mage at the 2023 Kentucky Derby and now Arcangelo at the Belmont Stakes, the Hall of Fame jockey now has a lifetime Triple Crown, adding to his two Preakness Stakes wins.

Courtesy of AP Photo

Jena Antonucci now has her name in the history books as the first female trainer to win a Triple Crown race. Jon Ebbert, Arcangelo’s owner, was offered a lot of money from different potential buyers to sell the horse, but chose to stay with Antonucci because “[he had the] confidence to stay with her and take the game [that] you’re going to win with the horse” as he told the Los Angeles Times. Antonucci also gave credit to Ebbert for his loyalty and not taking the horse to one of the big trainers, all of whom are men. Antonucci got her start in horse racing under one of these big trainers when she worked for D. Wayne Lukas until she decided to start training on her own in 2010. Antonucci stated, “no offense to [the male trainers], I love them all, but [Ebbert] gave the girl a chance.”

Unfortunately, Antonucci’s historic win was not the only big news of the weekend. The cloud that has been surrounding horse racing since the Kentucky Derby has unfortunately shown up in Belmont Park after two horses were injured and euthanized during the weekend. These deaths come just a week after Churchill Downs chose to suspend racing after a series of horse deaths where 12 horses died in a span of 8 weeks. Both horses that died at Belmont Park were trained by Mark A. Henning and, according to Henning and CNN, the horses, Mashnee Girl and Excursionniste, were healthy leading into their respective races.

Although the weekend consisted of tragedies, some positives came out of Belmont Park. Jena Antonucci has now carved her place in history after not just winning for herself, but winning for women and girls everywhere. In an interview following her Belmont Stakes win, Antonucci spoke a reminder for all to hear, “never give up, and if you can’t find a seat at the table, make your own table.”

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