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Arcangelo takes the Travers Stakes for trainer Jena Antonucci

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Trainer Jena Antonucci heard all the skeptics of Arcangelo and how the two-and-half month layoff between starts would effect the 3-year-old thoroughbred in Saturday’s 154th running of the Travers Stakes. She elected to tune them out, and let her horse do the talking. And Arcangelo delivered, backing up his win in the Belmont Stakes in June with a decisive victory in Saratoga Race Courses’ mid-summer derby.

“Thanks to the naysayers for motivating me a little bit more; not that we need a little bit more motivation,” said Antonucci. “But we will stay focused on what works for this horse.”

The $1.25 million, grade one race for three-year-olds offered a star-studded seven-horse field – perhaps the deepest pool of talent the race has seen in years. Arcangelo was one of three Triple Crown race winners in the lineup, including Kentucky Derby winner Mage, and Preakness victor National Treasure.

But none of those three horses were favorited Saturday. The leader atop the odds board was trainer Todd Pletcher’s Forte in the first post position, who won the Jim Dandy Stakes earlier in the meet. He closed at 8-5 odds, and was followed closely by Arcangelo at 5-2, who occupied the two-post.

The field raced five-wide into the home stretch. But with a furlong-and-a-half to go, Arcangelo found a second gear that slingshot him into a convincing, three-length lead by the 1/8th pole. The three-horse and seven-horse both dropped back, leaving the six, Disarm, as the only horse within striking distance of the two.

Disarm fought hard on the inside, but the gap was too much to overcome. Jockey Javier Castellano guided Arcangelo on a brilliant trip to victory for Antonucci, who, after becoming the first female trainer to win a Triple Crown race, was just the second female trainer to reach the winner’s circle in the Travers.

“The significance of accomplishing anything in any gender at the top of any sport, or industry, is a gift,” said Antonucci. “It doesn’t come without the team, and without every single person on our team. So, the significance of this – it’s hard to put completely into words right now.”

Castellano continues to own the Travers. Saturday’s win marked his record-extending seventh victory in the mid-summer derby.

“Seven wins means a lot to me,” said Castellano. “A lot of people gave me help to get it done. It’s hard. That’s why I like to enjoy those beautiful moments when you win those types of races (with) those beautiful horses. I’m really appreciative and thankful for that.”

Disarm finished in second place and the three-horse, Tapit Trice, managed to hang on for the show.

The Travers was just one of five grade one stakes races on the card; the first coming in race seven with the Forego Stakes.

The underlying theme of the Forego was one of redemption. The two favorites of the five-horse field, Elite Power (3-5) and Gunite (6-5), finished first and second, respectively, in the grade one Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap earlier in the meet.

The two horses linked up around the 1/8th pole and battled to the finish line, but Gunite was able to fend off Elite Power – flying down the final furlong to earn a grade one victory for trainer Steve Asmussen.

“Gunite’s just a very special horse,” said Asmussen. “To race at the level he has for as long as he has consistently…very tough to (be) beat in the Vanderbilt, but for him to not blink an eye, come back and lay it down again today just proves what a special horse he actually is.”

Asmussen’s day didn’t end there. His 4-year-old filly Echo Zulu entered the $500,000 Ballerina Handicap in race 10 a heavy favorite at 3-5.

Following a victory in the grade two Honorable Miss Handicap on July 26, Echo Zulu looked just as sharp in the Ballerina. She picked up the lead on the backstretch and never looked back. Trainer Chad Brown’s Goodnight Olive, out of the seven-post, threatened with a late push, but Echo Zulu still managed a two-and-half-length victory for Asmussen – his second grade one win of the day.

The Resorts World Casino Sword Dancer Stakes served as the precursor to the Travers in race 11, and boasted a $750,000 purse. The six-horse field was perhaps the most wide-open of the five grade one’s, as no horse maintained better than 2-1 odds going in.

Two horses were tied atop the odds boards at the outset: the one, Soldier Rising, and the seven, Stone Age. Around the final turn, Stone Age was running stride-for-stride with Ireland-bred five-year-old Bolshoi Ballet, who, winless in his previous nine starts, was going off at 5-1.

Bolshoi Ballet, trained by Aidan O’Brien, had impressed before as a three-year-old winner of the Belmont Derby Invitational Stakes in 2021, and he found his stride again in his return to the States Saturday. He blew right by Stone Age around the 1/16th pole, and strolled to a victory of four-and-a-half lenghs.

“When he kept pulling away, it was unbelievable to see,” said Charlie O’Connor, director of sales for Coolmore America, which represents Bolshoi Ballet’s owners. “Another great group one winner for Galileo. And Aidan O’Brien had this race pinpointed for him (Bolshoi Ballet), and how right he (O’Brien) was again. It’s always an away game for us coming over here; this horse is shipped all over the world. He’s just one hell of a race horse.”

Amid the stretch of grade one’s was the H. Allen Jerkens Memorial Stakes in race nine, which, unfortunately, resulted in tragedy.

New York Thunder was leading down the home stretch when he collapsed to the track in a situation eerily similar to that of Maple Leaf Mel in the Test Stakes on Whitney Day three weeks ago.

The New York Racing Association confirmed with NEWS10 Sports New York Thunder’s injury was catastrophic, and the three-year-old colt was humanely euthanized on the track.

NYRA’s full statement regarding the incident can be found below:

Update on New York Thunder (Race 9 on August 26 at Saratoga Race Course)

  • New York Thunder (#6) sustained a catastrophic injury to his left front leg in the stretch run of Race 9 on Saturday at Saratoga Race Course . Despite the immediate response of on-site veterinarians, the horse was humanely euthanized due to the severity of the injury. New York Thunder was trained by Jorge Delgado and ridden by Tyler Gafflione, who was uninjured.
  • Seven horses have sustained catastrophic injuries during racing at the 2023 summer meet at Saratoga Race Course, which opened on July 13 and has featured 2,461 horses starting in 324 races.
  • One horse (Burning Bright) died suddenly during the running of a race due to a major cardiovascular event.

NYRA Statement regarding the 2023 summer meet at Saratoga Race Course

“The safety of horses and jockeys competing at Saratoga Race Course is paramount,” said NYRA President & CEO Dave O’Rourke. “NYRA is continuing to investigate these catastrophic injuries with HISA officials, the New York State Gaming Commission, and the New York State Equine Medical Director. We will immediately consult with HISA’s Track Surface Advisory Group to further examine the overall condition of all three racing surfaces at Saratoga prior to Sunday’s program. In addition, NYRA will convene a group of relevant outside experts to evaluate our current safety protocols and procedures.

While NYRA has made meaningful and sustained progress reducing the frequency of serious injuries over the last ten years, there is always more work to be done to build upon that progress now and in the future.”

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