NEW YORK — Arcangelo took the lead at the top of the stretch and won the Belmont Stakes on Saturday, making Jena Antonucci the first female trainer to win a Triple Crown race.
After the horse crossed the finish line, Antonucci doubled over and rested her arm and her head on the back of a chair. She kissed the horse on the nose when it returned to the area in front of the winner’s circle.
Arcangelo finished the 1 1/2-mile race in 2:29.23 and 1 1/2 lengths in front of favored Forte, with Tapit Trice third.
“I give all the credit to the horse,” said jockey Javier Castellano, who rode Mage to victory in the Kentucky Derby and got this mount when that colt did not run in the Belmont. “This is a wonderful horse. I’m really happy for her, you know. She’s a really good woman. She’s a good horseman.”
Preakness Stakes winner National Treasure, trained by Bob Baffert, finished sixth.
The heartwarming victory put a positive note on a Triple Crown series marred by deaths of horses at Churchill Downs in the weeks around the Kentucky Derby and another on Preakness day for Baffert. It also ended a week in which the Belmont Stakes was put in jeopardy by air quality problems caused by wildfires in Canada.
Those cleared Friday, and the cloud over thoroughbred racing lifted Saturday.
The 47-year-old Antonucci, who started riding show horses as a preschooler and has held a plethora of jobs in racing, became a trainer in 2010, running a modest stable. She had sent fewer than 2,000 horses to the post in her first 13 years.
All the work paid off in one race.
“Never give up,” said Antonucci, who cried several times in talking with the media. “And, if you can’t find a seat at the table, make your own table and build your team and never give up. You’re seen. People see you. Just keep working your butt off.”
Antonucci was only the 11th woman to race a horse in the Belmont and the first since Kathy Ritvo sent out Mucho Macho Man to a seventh-place finish in 2011. Dianne Carpenter’s Kingpost had the previous best finish, second to Risen Star in 1988.
Arcangelo came into the Belmont off a hard-fought victory in the Peter Pan Stakes.
Arcangelo, who broke from the No. 3 post position, was always close to the lead in the nine-horse field. National Treasure led a group of seven within striking distance after a half, but as the race progressed Arcangelo stayed on the rail and was running head to head with National Treasure on the far turn that leads to the stretch.
By the time they reached the stretch, Arcangelo had moved to the front. He opened daylight and never let any horse get closer than the final margin.
“He’s got the heart of a champion,” Antonucci said.
Arcangelo paid $17.80, $7.20 and $4.,90 and earned $900,000 for Blue Rose Farm, which is owned by Jon Ebbert. Forte returned $4.30 and $3.30, and Tapit Trice was $4.10 to show.
Hit Show and Angel of Empire finished in a dead heat for fourth. They were followed by National Treasure, Il Miracolo, Red Route One and Tapit Shoes.