Gio Ponti to Defend Arlington Million Championship Saturday
Castleton Lyons' Gio Ponti, who captured last summer's Grade I Arlington Million as the fans' favorite, looms as an even stronger 7-5 choice in the morning line as he faces nine rivals in Saturday's 28th running of the centerpiece race of the Chicago Thoroughbred racing season - run at a mile and a quarter over Arlington's world-famous turf course.
Named in honor of the legendary Italian architect, Kentucky-bred Gio Ponti is trained by French-born but American-based horseman Christophe Clement, and should the 5-year-old horse and the 44-year-old Parisian native combine their talents to annex Arlington Million XXVIII, they would become the first horse and first trainer to pose in the Arlington Million winner's circle in back-to-back seasons. Castleton Lyons would also be the first ownership to win the Million twice in succession.
Gio Ponti is coming off a neck tally in Belmont's Grade I Man o' War Stakes in his last start July 10. Before that he had missed by a half-length when runner-up in Belmont's Grade I Manhattan Handicap June 5 on Belmont Stakes Day, but had been forced to steady sharply when turning for home.
The son of Tale of the Cat finished second by a length to Jerry and Ann Moss's Zenyatta in last fall's Grade I Breeders' Cup Classic over Santa Anita's synthetic surface, but that narrow defeat might have indirectly enhanced his dominance in the Eclipse Award voting as 2009's Male Turf Horse. He was also named Eclipse Award-winning Older Male. Regular rider Ramon Dominguez would become the first jockey in history to win back-to-back Arlington Millions.
However, Gio Ponti the architect was also known for designing one of the luxury suites aboard the ill-fated Italian ocean liner Andrea Doria, and should Gio Ponti the horse sink under the weight of the favorite's mantle in the Million, there is a host of worthy candidates to stand in his place in the winner's circle.
Jonathan Sheppard's Just as Well, runner-up to Gio Ponti in last summer's Arlington Million, is pegged as the main source of competition once again at 5-1 in the Million morning line. Owned and trained by Sheppard, who was inducted into the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame at Saratoga Springs in 1990, Just as Well finished second in the Grade III Arlington Handicap on July 17 as the designed local prep for Saturday's showcase event, and won the 2009 renewal of that prep. Just as Well would be the first Arlington ‘Cap victor to win the Million.
Shadwell Stable's Tazeez, one of three European invaders for the Million, is the third choice in the morning line at 6-1 and must be respected for his excellent third-place run in the Group I Prince of Wales's Stakes June 16 during Great Britain's prestigious Royal Ascot meet. British-born conditioner John Gosden trains and British jockey Richard J. Hills is to ride.
Owner-trainer Tom McCarthy's General Quarters, winner of Keeneland's 2009 Grade I Blue Grass Stakes and Churchill's 2010 Grade I Woodford Reserve Turf Classic over soft going on Kentucky Derby Day May 1, is 8-1 in the Million morning line, but didn't care for the hard turf course when a disinterested sixth in the Arlington Handicap five weeks ago. Irish-born jockey James Graham is slated for the saddle.
William Bellew's Summit Surge, the second of three European invaders for the Million, won the Group II Sky Bet York Stakes at Great Britain's York Racecourse in his last start on July 24 and is pegged at 10-1 in the morning line. Italian-born but Newmarket-based Luca Cumani trains and Irish-born jockey Kieren Fallon is slated for the tack.
Also 10-1 in the Million morning line is Robert Courtney Jr.'s Rahystrada, hero of the Arlington Handicap at last asking. Swedish-born jockey Inez Karlsson will be in the stirrups astride the Scooter Hughes trainee.
Darley Stud Management's Debussy, who finished fourth, beaten 2 3/4-lengths by Summit Surge in the Sky Bet York Stakes last time, is the third European invader contesting Million XXVIII and is 12-1 in the morning line. Norwegian-born William Buick is the jockey named to ride Gosden's second Million contestant.
Robert Evans' Marsh Side, who finished fourth in the Arlington Handicap beaten a length and three quarters, is also 12-1 in the morning line. Corey Nakatani is the jockey named by Hall of Fame trainer Neil Drysdale for Marsh Side.
Shadwell Stable's Tajaaweed, Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid al Maktoum's American-based Million runner, finished third in the Arlington Handicap, a neck in front of Marsh Side, but is posted at 15-1 in the morning line and will be ridden once again by Michael Baze.
The longest shot in the morning line for Arlington Million XXVIII is Jean and Ted Barlas and Michael Porcaro's Quite a Handful at 30-1. The Andy Hansen trainee journeyed to Indiana Downs to win his last start July 12 and will have Tanner Riggs aboard once again.
The Million, along with the $750,000 Beverly D. and $400,000 Secretariat Stakes, is one of three Grade I races to make up Arlington one-day International Festival of Racing Saturday. Together, they are the only three Grade I races contested in Illinois on an annual basis, and the Million winner receives an automatic "Win and You're In" invitation to the Grade I Breeders' Cup Turf at Churchill Downs Nov. 6.