While lesser known to many who don’t follow horse racing closely, the Travers Stakes represents a prestigious competition with a field of some of the best race horses in the country. That race on Aug. 26 turned into a nail-biter as a 3-year-old gray colt named Arcangelo pulled ahead of the crowd to take claim the big win.
A feat in itself, but what happened at the Belmont Stakes in June is where this star-turn story really begins for Arcangelo and his trainer, Jena Antonucci, as they rode straight into the history books, crossing the finish line first and making Jena the first female trainer in history to win The Belmont Stakes. What does this have to do with Land O’Lakes? Arcangelo is proudly fed and supported by Purina Animal Nutrition.
Jena, who runs the Ocala, Florida-based horseOlogy raises, trains and races thoroughbreds -- working with some from conception to retirement. No stranger to the horse world, Jena has worked with them nearly all her life.
“My parents always said you have to get a real job -- do horses as a hobby. Well, I did those things but always found my way back to the horse world for different reasons,” says Jena. “I got bit by the bug.”
Turning this into a career, she says she learned how to better understand and retrain thoroughbred horses and loved being able to start them from ground zero.
Arcangelo came to horseOlogy as a 2-year old and didn’t initially strike Jena as a potential Triple Crown race participant.
“We took the reins—no cliché intended—and started over with him. We never intended that he would honestly ever get to the racetrack. We always felt we had a nice horse, but there's a notion in horse racing of the ‘Morning Glory’ where you watch them do everything right in the morning and then they just don’t show up in the afternoon. He handled some adversity early on and didn’t get the wins straight out-of-the-box.”
However, Arcangelo eventually did make it to the competitive track -- and proved he was meant to be there.
Jena says a win Arcangelo had this past March “started a flicker for him and he thought, ‘That was fun. Winning is fun. So, we had built a rapport. That was very fortuitous and we’re fortunate to have him with us now and be on his journey since then.”
But what was it like when this “little horse that could” took The Belmont Stakes, and Jena herself made history?
“Obviously the Belmont win is kind of a standalone of how Arcangelo slammed the door open there. Honestly, I wasn’t even leaning into the ‘I just became the first woman to have done this.’ That wasn’t even on my radar. We were more thinking ‘we just won the Belmont, are you kidding me? Are you kidding me?’ It was literally that simple.”
Purina has been supporting and feeding horses for over 130 years, but the Belmont and Travers wins stand out. What led Jena and her team to trust us with her horses for over eight years? She says the industry-leading innovation, quality and research is a key consideration.
“We've learned to lean-in to the tools Purina has to suit our program. Knowing from a scientific point of view that Purina is doing their absolute best to make a stable product – I can’t even express how important that is. I don't want inconsistencies in nutrition. Understanding how Purina went about quality control and ensuring batches were consistent -- those details, for me, were very important.”
“Purina has been a source of expertise not only in supporting racehorses like Arcangelo, but also the next generation of racers we rely on for reproductive support, too -- especially when caring for expecting mares and their foals.”
Beyond the science, however, it’s the heart and it’s the people.
“Very honestly, and this is not blowing smoke anywhere…Shiela. Shiela is the reason I swapped to Purina,” Jena says.
Shiela Conde, a Purina Animal Nutrition sales specialist, has been with us for 12 years.
“Shiela worked very hard at selling us and we had a lot of conversations. She understood that I was probably a little bit more educated in the sense of wanting to understand the nutrition and how it was available and the consistency of the program and more the ‘nuts and bolts of it.”
“Knowing that I can pick up the phone and call Sheila or talk to the other veterinarians on-hand with Purina and say, “hey, listen, this is what I'm dealing with, this is a unique situation’ or whatnot and that I have that support at the level we're trying to do things -- that's important.”
And the feeling is mutual.
“It is great to work with this team,” says Shiela. “The commitment they have for the horses in their care sets them apart. Sure, it is amazing to have them win the Belmont with Arcangelo and to make history as the first female trainer to do so, but it is the everyday honor to work with each side of their business. Every day is important, each horse is valued by this team. They are truly a great program and customer.”
Through Arcangelo’s thrilling wins, the racing world and beyond saw what we at Land O’Lakes and Purina Animal Nutrition have known all along: that the research, quality control and safety of our feed is critical, but the heart and passion that goes along with caring for the animals we love is equally so.