Angel Penna Jr., who trained champions Christmas Past and Laugh and Be Merry, has died in South Florida at the age of 74. According to published reports, Penna was residing in an assisted living facility due to the onset of dementia when he passed.
Born June 27, 1948, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Penna was the son of the Hall of Fame trainer, Angel Penna Sr., who also was born in Buenos Aires but made headlines training in France, England and the United States. In the 1970s, the elder Penna won the Epsom Derby and two runnings of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. He died in 1992 at the age of 68. Penna Sr. was widely respected as a horseman whose mantra about his horses was “don’t squeeze the lemon dry.”
The younger Penna, who assisted his father for a number of years, began training in the U.S. in 1980 after getting his start in Europe. His first graded stakes winner came in 1981 with the Chilean-bred El Barril, but the following year he developed the Cynthia Phipps homebred Christmas Past to be champion 3-year-old filly. The daughter of Grey Dawn II won five graded stakes that season, including the Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks and G1 Ruffian Handicap. Penna ran her against older males in the G1 Jockey Club Gold Cup, where she finished third. Christmas Past came back the following year to beat males in the G1 Gulfstream Park Handicap.
In 1983, Penna developed A Phenomenon into one of the country’s top sprinters for owner Brownell Combs II, winning three stakes, including the only Grade 1 race for sprinters then contested, the Vosburgh at Belmont Park. He lost the Eclipse Award vote as champion sprinter to California-based Chinook Pass.
Penna trained several top horses for Josephine Abercrombie’s Pin Oak Farm, including dual G1 winner Cool and Laugh and Be Merry, a daughter of Erins Isle who was voted an Eclipse Award in 1990 as champion grass mare after winning 5-of-8 starts, including the G1 Flower Bowl Handicap.
Penna never oversaw a large stable, his most active year coming in 1985 when he was represented by 181 starts and recorded 38 wins. In recent years he was based in South Florida year-round, his number of annual starts averaging less than 40. He saddled his last ru n Nov. 4, 2021, when Only Time finished third in a maiden claiming event at Gulfstream Park.
Penna is survived by his wife, Ruth. Funeral arrangements are not known at this time but will be published when available.