January 22, 2021
Pegasus Next Stop for Venezuelan Native, Jesus’ Team
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – Trainer Jose D’Angelo put thousands of miles on his truck last year while giving his stable star, Jesus’ Team, a tour of East Coast and Midwest racetracks.
“When Jesus’ Team left Florida to go to Monmouth, when he went from Monmouth to Saratoga and back to Monmouth, when he went to Pimlico and when he went to Kentucky and back to Florida, I drove him there in the truck,” said D’Angelo, recalling the extensive road trip that produced Grade 1 placings in the Preakness (G1) at Pimlico and Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) at Keeneland, as well as a lifetime of memories for a horsemen who was only in his first full year of training in the U.S. “Everywhere he went, I drove the truck.”
After hitting the road with Grupo 7C Racing Stable’s reformed claimer for a full schedule of major stakes engagements last year, the 30-year-old native of Caracas, Venezuela will save a lot on gas for the 4-year-old son of Tapiture’s 2021 debut start in Saturday’s $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1) at Gulfstream Park. Jesus’ Team will only have to make the short trip from his home at Palm Meadows, Gulfstream’s satellite training facility in Palm Beach County, to compete in the 1 1/8-mile Pegasus, which will co-headline Saturday’s program with the $1 million Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational (G1).
“I’m very excited about the race. I feel blessed,” D’Angelo said. “I feel like Jesus is going to run a big race Saturday, but I’m also very nervous.”
D’Angelo may have a case of big-race jitters leading up to the Pegasus World Cup, but that doesn’t mean that he lacks confidence in his horse or his ability to bring him into one of the world’s richest races in peak form. He’s been there, done that in Venezuela.
He grew up in a Thoroughbred racing family, being the son of trainer Francisco D’Angelo, the leading trainer in Venezuela on multiple occasions, and the grandson of a prominent Thoroughbred journalist. After attending university to study business administration for two years, D’Angelo dropped out to pursue a training career with his father’s blessing.
“I learned everything I know from my father. He was a great trainer in Venezuela. He won many titles in Venezuela. He is my role model, 100 percent,” he said.
D’Angelo experienced a full range of emotion at La Rinconada after saddling his first starter at the end of 2012.
“My first race I won, but he was disqualified,” D’Angelo said. “The horse’s name was Dasha. It was the 23rd of December.”
Merry Christmas, indeed.
D’Angelo’s spirits were quickly lifted when he saddled his first official winner with his third starter, Queen Norma, at La Rinconada.
In 2014, D’Angelo saddled Dreaming of Gold for a victory in the Clasico Simon Bolivar, becoming the youngest trainer to saddle the winner of Venezuela’s most prestigious race.
“When the horse won his first race for me, I told the owners, ‘We have the horse to win the Clasico Simon Bolivar.’ They looked at me like I was crazy,” D’Angelo said. “Dreaming of Gold wasn’t the best horse in Venezuela, but he beat the best horses. Jesus wasn’t the best horse in Florida, but he beat the best in Florida and ran in the Preakness and Breeders’ Cup. Both horses are very, very similar.”
D’Angelo had continued success and achieved his goal of becoming the leading trainer in Venezuela in 2018.
“It was my goal. After that, I moved to Florida,” said D’Angelo, who joined his father, who had ventured to South Florida in 2015 to resume his training career. “To come here was always my dream.”
D’Angelo, who had saddled Forze Mau for a second-place finish in the Copa Velocidad on the 2017 Clasico del Caribe undercard at Gulfstream while based in Venezuela, saddled his horse since relocating to the U.S. at Gulfstream Park June 8, 2019, when Cocktail Skirt came up a nose short of victory while finishing second in a $12,500 claiming race. He broke through with his first U.S. victory with his third overall U.S. starter, Beach Dreaming, whom he had claimed out of a $12,500 claiming race and went on to score at the same level June 27, 2019. D’Angelo didn’t have to sweat out an inquiry following the 5-year-old mare’s dominating 2 ¼-length victory, but she was claimed out of the race.
D’Angelo quickly established himself in South Florida while finishing the 2018 season with 15 victories from 57 starters. His early success certainly was a contributing factor to Jesus’ Team being transferred to his stable last spring, a partnership that also achieved early success. The Kentucky-bred colt, who had broken his maiden in his fifth career start for a $32.000 claiming price, won at first asking by 6 ¾ lengths in a $25,000 claiming race at Gulfstream May 8.
“When he won, I thought that race was very impressive. When he came back to the barn it was like he didn’t race,” D’Angelo said. “The next time he worked, the way he galloped out, he was a different horse.”
Jesus’ Team made a significant jump in class next time out in a June 10 stakes-quality optional claiming allowance at Gulfstream, in which he finished second behind graded-stakes winner Sole Volante, who went on to run in the Belmont Stakes (G1) and Kentucky Derby (G1), and ahead of Florida Derby (G1) runner-up Shivaree.
“He ran green in that race, but he finished second with a big heart,” his trainer said.
D’Angelo revved up his truck, led Jesus’ Team onto a van, and hit the road for an amazing adventure that included a fourth-place finish behind Authentic in the Haskell (G1) and a second-place finish in the ungraded Pegasus at Monmouth, a third-place finish in the Preakness, and a second-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile behind likely Pegasus favorite Knicks Go. Jesus’ Team tuned up for the Pegasus with a victory in the Dec. 5 Claiming Crown Jewel upon his return to Gulfstream.
“I would like to be a great trainer in this amazing country and have great horses to run in the big races,” D’Angelo said. “The experience I lived last year was the best in my life, for sure.”