Arlington Race Track in Arlington Heights, Illinois will host two Breeders' Cup "Win & You're In" races on Saturday—the Grade 1 Beverly D Stakes and the Grade 1 Arlington Million. The Beverly D Stakes will guarantee the winner a start in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf and the Arlington Million will guarantee the winner a start in the Breeders' Cup Turf. Although the Beverly D is full of classy runners, we'll focus on the Arlington Million.
The morning line favorite is Gio Ponti, at odds of 2-1. Gio Ponti is a stunning horse trained by Christophe Clement. Over the course of the last four years, the six-year-old has cemented himself as a one of the world's top turf runners. Assuming he makes it to the Breeders’ Cup this year, it will mark his fourth Breeders’ Cup appearance.
In his first Breeders’ Cup appearance in 2007, Gio Ponti finished eighth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf. He came back in 2009 to finish second to the great mare, Zenyatta, in the Breeders’ Cup Classic over Santa Anita’s synthetic track. In 2010, Gio Ponti finished second in the Breeders’ Cup Mile to another great mare, the European miler, Goldikova.
Saturday will mark the third appearance for Gio Ponti in the Arlington Million. He has finished first and second in his prior Arlington Million starts. Although his last victory came in Keeneland’s Shadwell Turf Mile last October, he has consistently improved over the year and is the class of the race. Whether he wins or loses, he will definitely finish within the top three.
The second choice, at 9-5, is the European-based, Cape Blanco. Cape Blanco has competed in one U.S. race—the Grade 1 Man O’War in which he beat Gio Ponti by 2 ¼ lengths. Prior to that race, Cape Blanco finished a paltry sixth in the Group 1 Queen Anne Stakes at Ascot in Great Britain. A paltry finish until you discover that the first and second place finishers in that race were Canford Cliffs and Goldikova, respectively, two of Europe’s finest.
Cape Blanco has consistently fared well against the world’s best turf runners and will definitely be the toughest of Gio Ponti’s competition. Cape Blanco is trained by Aiden O’Brien; again, one of Europe’s finest. Jockey Jamie Spencer will retain the mount.
Third choice in the field of ten is 6-1 Mission Approved. In his first start for trainer Naipaul Chatterpaul in 2010, Mission Approved jumped from the claiming ranks to the Grade 1 Man O’War where he finished a neck behind Gio Ponti.
In his next start, almost a year later, Mission Approved pulled the upset over Gio Ponti in the Grade 1 Manhattan on Belmont Stakes day at Belmont Park. That was at the same 1 1/4 mile distance as the Arlington Million, but over a yielding turf course. In his last race, the 2011 Man O’War, Mission Approved finished fourth, 4 2/3 lengths behind the winner, Cape Blanco, and the second-place finisher Gio Ponti.
This year’s Arlington Million field includes other top quality horses, but few with as much Grade 1 or Group 1 experience or success as the three previously referenced. The field includes Rahystrada, Tajaaweed, Dean’s Kitten (14th in the 2010 Kentucky Derby), Zack Hall, Proceed Bee, Wigmore Hall, and General Perfect.
The race is the tenth on Saturday’s stakes-filled card at Arlington, behind the Grade 1 Beverly D Stakes. Post time for the race is 6:15 EST. The race can be seen on HRTV and TVG.
Photo: Courtesy Breeders’ Cup