First female trainer to win Belmont looks beyond her historic feat

SARATOGA SPRINGS — The sign outside Jena Antonucci’s Barn 44 at Saratoga Race Course says a lot but not everything:


Trainer: Jena Antonucci

Owner: Blue Rose Farm

Horse: Arcangelo

Jockey: Javier Castellano

Jena Antonucci poses for a picture next to her horse Do Gooder at her barn at Saratoga Race Course. JASON SZENES FOR THE NEW YORK POST

It doesn’t mention that on June 10, 2023, in Elmont, N.Y., Antonucci became the first female thoroughbred trainer to win a Triple Crown race.

“I guess we did a thing last year, apparently,” Antonucci told The Post with a chuckle. “Sure, it’ll always hold a special place. It wasn’t, ‘If I win the Belmont, I’ll become the first woman to do something.’ That wasn’t part of it.

“The Belmont is such a historic race. It’s so Americana and part of the fabric of racing. For me, it was watching our team accomplish that, watching the horse accomplish that, the owner accomplish that.”

Antonucci was ready for the next question, and her reaction made it clear it’s not the first time it’s been asked. The one about her being the Billie Jean King of horse racing.

“Oh, geez,” she said.

After a brief pause, she continued, “I guess I’m not totally comfortable in that space yet because that’s just not how I function. I realize somebody’s name has to go in the program … but it’s everyone in the barn doing the work that makes all this happen, so I wasn’t swinging a racket by myself out there.

“I definitely understand what it means to people and what it’s meant to other women and young girls or young boys to do something for the first time and that has probably taken me the last year to get. ‘OK, now I understand what it means.’ ”

Jena Antonucci pets one of her horses as after she helped her exercise rider onto a horse at her barn at Saratoga Race Course. JASON SZENES FOR THE NEW YORK POST

Arcangelo followed up the Belmont with a victory in the Travers, Saratoga’s signature summer event.

That was a first, too, as Antonucci became the first female trainer to win the Travers since Mary Hirsch in 1938.

But none of this means she’s interested in turning her stable into an all-female enclave.

Betting on the Belmont Stakes 2023?

“I employ anyone [who] wants to work hard, to put the horse’s well being ahead of theirs and just have a commitment to the horse,” Antonucci said. “Their gender is secondary. So whether they’re young, old or whatnot, my focus is always the horse, them loving on the horse, and then we make everything else happen.”

As for what’s happening with Arcangelo? Well, you know …

“He’s at Lane’s End [Farm] in Kentucky. He’s got his first book of mares covered this year,” Antonucci, 48, said. “Listen we promised him … if you can do these things, then you get to do these things. So he’s doing those things now. We’re excited to see those kids next year.”

Craig Steinhart talks to the NY Post about his horse trainer Jena Antonucci at Saratoga Race Course. JASON SZENES FOR THE NEW YORK POST

One of Antonucci’s current connections is Craig Steinhart, co-owner of Whatintheliteral, a 2-year-old filly who won Thursday’s ninth race, The Astoria, at 13-1 odds in her third career start.

Steinhart told The Post he’s happy Antonucci is starting to get the accolades she has deserved.

“She’s always treated me like I’m someone really important, which I’m not,” he said. “She’s just very down to earth, honest. When I call her, she responds. She’s just terrific.

“I’m very happy for her success but she hasn’t changed at all from when I first met her and there was no Belmont and no Travers.”

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