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Jena Antonucci became the first female trainer to win a Triple Crown race when Arcangelo bested Forte at the wire in the Belmont. Saturday, she became the second female trainer to win the Travers and it was not even close. Arcangelo powered to the finish line, winning decisively over the closing pair Disarm and Tapit Trice.
The 47-year-old Antonucci is in her 13th year of horse training, and prides herself on patience and preparedness. Winning jockey Javier Castellano and Antonucci are almost the same age, but he has been in the business much longer. This was his seventh Travers win, the most of any jockey in history.
Arcangelo was coming off an 11-week layoff, and some were skeptical of Antonucci’s decision not to give him a race between the Belmont and the Travers. But she knew her horse. And the owners at Blue Rose Farm trusted her judgment implicitly. The three-year-old gray colt received a 105 Beyer for his effort and covered the mile and a quarter in 2:02.23. Ironically, his sire, Arrogate, holds the record for the fastest Travers at 1:59.36.
As much as the Antonucci/Arcangelo story is a badly needed shot in the arm for horse racing, the story was overshadowed by more breakdowns and fatalities earlier in the card. New York Thunder was on the lead and had the Grade 1 Allen Jerkins Memorial won when he suffered a catastrophic injury under jockey Tyler Gaffalione. Four year old Nobel also suffered a catastrophic injury under Gaffalione in race five just past the wire during the gallop out. Gaffalione was miraculously uninjured but shaken in both accidents.
Many Saratoga fans who came to enjoy Travers Day and the “Midsummer Derby” simply got up and left after the second fatality…missing the biggest race of the entire meet. Some were crying. Most were somber. The mood shifted dramatically as it did for fans watching on national television.
Personally, I have not seen a live race since Kentucky Derby week when the rash of breakdowns started at Churchill Downs. Even on my birthday, when a group of ladies met a the track to watch Saratoga, I turned my head discreetly and waited for replays. As passionate as I am about the sport, I simply cannot watch until I get the all clear that no horse or person was injured or died. Then, I watch the replay. Needless to say, much of my excitement and enthusiasm has left the building. It is no longer as enjoyable. Something can and MUST be done if horse racing is to remain a viable sport.
There is much speculation about the cause of this summer of catastrophic injuries. I believe there are a number of contributing factors…none of which can be singled out as the primary cause. In no particular order, the following may be factors to varying degrees:
*** PEDs (Performance Enhancing Drugs)
*** Inbreeding for speed weakening an already fragile breed.
*** Climate change/weather conditions and tracks’ inability to adjust the surfaces quickly.
*** Failure to cancel racing in extreme heat and other unsafe conditions.
*** Pressure from tracks to run horses too often or in inappropriate spots to fill races.
*** Enhanced purse money resulting in trainers and owners doing the same…running too often or in inappropriate spots.
*** Banning of certain therapeutic medications.
*** Poor implementation of pre-race vetting requirements.
*** Track maintenance in general.
One of the problems with all of these issues is horse racing has no commissioner and central governing body. HISA is an attempt to move in the direction of universal guidelines, but has not seemed effective to date. Again, we need to make some radical changes soon before horse racing becomes a non-existent sport… or at least one none of us can enjoy anymore.