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Magic discusses Arcangelo’s quest to become the first horse since Tonalist (2014) to complete the Peter Pan Stakes / Belmont Stakes double. What does history say about his chances? Tell us YOUR thoughts in the Comments section!
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Blue Rose Farm’s Arcangelo, last-out winner of the Grade 3 Peter Pan here, worked five-eighths solo in 1:02.81 over Big Sandy on Wednesday with Hall of Fame jockey Javier Castellano aboard in preparation for the Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets.
Arcangelo entered the track through the paddock path and briefly stood near the finish line beside trainer Jena Antonucci and her pony, Basha. He trotted to the backstretch where he began his work and was gently coaxed along under sunny skies and temperatures in the mid-60s. NYRA clockers caught the grey son of Arrogate galloping out six-furlongs in 1:15 4/5 and seven-furlongs in 1:28 4/5.
Castellano, who won the first leg of the Triple Crown aboard Mage, said he was pleased with the breeze as Antonucci prepares Arcangelo to travel two turns and beyond nine-furlongs for the first time in the 12-furlong “Test of the Champion.”
“He’s a nice, beautiful moving horse and he did it easy. He’s a good work horse. In the morning, you can work him 59 if you wanted,” Castellano said. “We all know that it’s a mile and a half and you don’t want to go crazy with a bullet work. We just give him a good foundation and I think we both agree we let him do what he wants to do in the morning and be happy.
“You can see he’s a very happy horse and he goes to the post nice – very relaxed, comfortable rhythm,” added Castellano. “I let him gallop out and in the turn I asked him a little bit and he took off and [had a] good open gallop. He’s a big horse, long beautiful stride. He likes to reach for more ground. The farther he can go, the more he’s comfortable.”
Castellano said it was important for Arcangelo to finish off the work in a professional manner.
“I liked that he switched leads at the right time and the right place,” Castellano said. “It was a beautiful work all the way. It was a beautiful work past the wire all the way to the turn, happy and comfortable.”
Antonucci said she and Castellano agreed about the importance of a strong gallop-out.
“It’s not a secret he hasn’t gone two turns yet and that’s the obvious conversation and we talked a lot about that,” Antonucci said. “The second half of the work was more important for me than the first half. Going off, he was super relaxed and that’s what we were looking for – I didn’t want him dragging Javier to the pole and him having to take any natural ability momentum away from him. He did that perfectly and Javier was a statue aboard the horse. We wanted to get that second turn around him and Javier was concerned to smooch at him too much.”
Antonucci said that Arcangelo is a go for the Belmont Stakes provided he emerges well from the work tomorrow.
“Right now, he’s extremely happy and as long as his legs are tight and happy tomorrow, then we’ll give him the opportunity,” said Antonucci. “I’m hoping he keeps his feet on the ground, that will be the biggest thing. He’ll walk tomorrow. He’s not a good jogger – he gets bored. We’ll likely gallop a mile and a half [Friday], his normal. We’ll walk him around with the pony and keep him happy. We know he’s fast.”
The lightly-raced Arcangelo has made four career starts, beginning with a pair of efforts over the winter at Gulfstream Park under Jose Ortiz that included a fourth-place finish in a one-turn mile on January 14 won by eventual Grade 2 Louisiana Derby-winner Kingsbarns.
Castellano hopped aboard Arcangelo for the first time in the afternoon on March 18 at Gulfstream and guided the $35,000 Keeneland September Yearling Sale purchase to a 3 1/2-length score in a one-mile maiden special weight. Last out, Arcangelo stepped up into stakes company in the nine-furlong Peter Pan on May 13 and won a stirring stretch duel with the favored Bishops Bay, who entered undefeated in two starts for trainer Brad Cox.
“He passed the test and we beat a nice horse,” Castellano said. “That horse, he had a couple races under his belt, and he was the favorite in the race and we hooked up together. He hesitated a little bit to go by, and then I asked him a little bit and he played a little bit and I asked him and he responded and did what he had to do.”
Castellano has finished second in the Belmont Stakes on three occasions – all by narrow margins, including a three-quarter length loss aboard Stay Thirsty to Ruler On Ice in 2011; a head defeat to Tonalist in 2014 when piloting 28-1 shot Commissioner; and a nose defeat to Creator in 2016 aboard Destin.
“The last one was very painful – trust me. I was devastated because it was a dirty nose when he got beat. I thought it was a dead heat and right on the wire he beat me,” said the 45-year-old resident of nearby Garden City. “That was the race I always target because my family grew up here in New York and my neighbors say, ‘you ride the Belmont’ and they root for me.”
Castellano realized one Triple Crown dream this year when he secured a memorable first Kentucky Derby score, but the Hall of Famer had to settle for third in the Preakness with Mage, who will skip the Belmont in favor of summer targets.
The veteran rider said he has turned the page on the Preakness result and admitted that he’s always had a soft spot for the improving Arcangelo.
“I fall in love with the horse the first time I worked him, wow. Before the Peter Pan, I told Jena, ‘please don’t forget me’ and she said, ‘you don’t forget about me,'” recalled Castellano with a laugh.
Antonucci said she is taking the opportunity to start her first contender in a Triple Crown race in stride as Arcangelo looks to become the first Peter Pan winner since Tonalist  to take the “Test of the Champion.”
“They’re all special, and not the be cliché, but my job is to stay out of his way,” Antonucci said. “It [the opportunity] doesn’t fall on deaf ears. It’s special – if it’s 10 in the gate or 11 in the gate of that entire foal crop, that’s a very small percentage. So, I definitely don’t lose sight of that and I’m very blessed to have the opportunity and for the team to have the opportunity. They’ve put in a lot of work and they deserve it.”
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