As the runners neared the start gate of the 155th Belmont Stakes on Saturday, everyone who was into the sport and who loved thoroughbreds was hoping for something good to come–no. I was begging-
Just a bit. Over the past five weeks, a shift in American sports fans’ attitudes toward the annual horse race has led to one disastrous outcome, sparking an open debate about whether the sport’s social license should be renewed.
The Belmont Stakes was almost a fairy tale by comparison.
A gray horse named Arcangelo made history as he roared down the Long Island horse tracks. His trainer, Jenna Antonucci, became the first female trainer to win a Triple Crown race in over a century.
From the clubhouse, Antonucci watches rider Javier Castellano dove onto the rail around the far turn and slingshot into the stretch, as if Arcangelo was tethered to magnetic train tracks. rice field. The horse stopped Forte’s late escape and gave Castellano his first win in Belmont after 14 tries. Hall of Famer Castellano won his first Kentucky Derby five weeks ago in his 16th attempt on Mage.
“He wanted to run today, so I had to be patient with him,” Castellano said after the race before returning his attention to Antonucci and her team.
At the clubhouse, cheeks wet and feet happy, Antonucci hopped and encouraged the horse to run. Antonucci, a former Florida-born show rider, paid his dues in the barn of fellow Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lucas.
Her barn is small with only a few dozen horses. Her staff are mostly women and this was her first victory in a Grade I race, the highest level of the sport. Since 1937, 30 women have tried 47 times to win the Triple Crown race, but have fallen short.
Antonucci was asked what breaking through the glass ceiling meant to her. “I don’t have an elegant answer,” she said, her voice trembling. “They say you shouldn’t cry in baseball, but I think it’s the same in horse racing.”
After taking a few deep breaths, she gave it a try.
“Horses don’t know who you are,” she said. “I hope more people can be like horses, like this one, so that the horse believes in you and your team.”
Arcangelo, a three-year-old ridgeling, gave Blue Rose Farm owner John Ebert a cheap basement for $35,000 as a yearling. Over the past few months, as Gray has grown into a graceful horse, Ebert has responded to calls from owners and trainers, offering far more than the purchase price of the horse to get Arcangelo into the barn. .
Arcangelo began his racing career in December at the age of two, and Antonucci spent time with him between races. He had only raced four times before Saturday and won twice, but the most impressive came last month at the racetrack.
“I have a huge amount of gratitude for John,” Antonucci said. “He’s a patient owner. Many owners can learn from his example and grow their horses. This crazy guy has given a lot of girls a chance.”
Records show Arcangelo winning the 1.5-mile race, known as the Trial of Champions, in 2:29.35. He paid his $17.80 on his $2 winning bet and won his first check for $900,000 to Evert and Blue Rose Farm.
Perhaps for a moment, a hopeful look at the future overshadowed the blemish of a spate of dead horse tragedies and failed drug tests by two top trainers.
The death of two of the Kentucky Derby undercards and the death of 12 horses put the venerable Derby race under intense scrutiny.
Things got even worse in Baltimore. America’s most accomplished and controversial trainer, Bob Baffert, has returned from suspension and burst into the limelight when his horse, National Treasure, won the Preakness Stakes.
Baffert had been suspended from the Triple Crown for two years after Medina Spirit failed a drug test in the Derby. And hours before the Preakness Stakes, another colt he trained, Havna Meltdown, stumbled on a far corner at Pimlico Racecourse, injured his leg and had to be euthanized on the track.
Last month, second-placed jockey Forte was disqualified from the Hopeful Stakes in Saratoga Springs, New York, after a post-race drug test detected a prohibited substance. His trainer, another Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher, has had horses pass six drug tests in three states, The New York Times reported.
And 25 minutes after Antonucci’s victory, a horse named Excursioniste was fatally injured in the final race of the day at Belmont Park. It was the third fatal accident on the track since the start of the race on May 4.
Still, Antonucci’s victory was to be celebrated. The trainer thanked him and expressed his determination. As she stepped out of the paddock before the race, she had a moment to remind herself of what was to come.
“I said, ‘There is no table made for you,'” she said. “‘You’re the one who sets the table. You’ve got great people around you and you’re working hard. Cut off your tail. If you do it right, it will.'”
she did And did horse racing need it?