A yielding turf was just fine with favored Cape Blanco , who registered his second straight grade I score on North American turf in style for Irish trainer Aidan O'Brien in the Arlington Million (gr. IT) Aug. 13 at rain-soaked Arlington Park (VIDEO) .
The Irish-bred Cape Blanco capped a huge day for O'Brien, who won the Secretariat Stakes (gr. IT) with Treasure Beach two races earlier on the Arlington card.
Jamie Spencer guided Cape Blanco, a 4-year-old Galileo colt, to an impressive 2 1/2-length triumph in a slow time of 2:05.39 for the 1 1/4 miles.
The victory was a bit of redemption for Spencer, who was disqualified from victory in the 2004 Arlington Million when Powerscourt was demoted for interference in the stretch.
“He’s a good tough horse and he’s brilliantly trained. All I did was the steering," Spencer said of Cape Blanco, who surpassed $3 million in career earnings. "There are very few horses that have the will to win like he has. The more you ask from him, the more you get from him. He had loads left in the end.”
Two-time American turf champion Gio Ponti rallied belatedly for second, edging Dean's Kitten. Gio Ponti won the Million in 2009 and ran second in last year's renewal.
“The winner had first run on us and you have to give him credit, we were second best today," said Dominguez of Gio Ponti's effort. "If you put him in striking range too soon, he is going to go too early and it takes him out of his game. He isn't three any more, but he runs so good every time he's out there. We are all so used to his consistency."
Cape Blanco, the 2010 Irish Derby (gr. IT) champion, also defeated Gio Ponti by 2 1/4 lengths in the Man o' War Stakes (gr. IT) at Belmont Park five weeks ago. Cape Blanco, who is owned by Mrs. Fitriani Hay, Derrick Smith, Mrs. John Magnier, and Michael B. Tabor, was returned to Ireland prior to shipping back to Chicago this week.
The Arlington Million victory carries an automatic invitation to the Emirates Arline Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT) at Churchill Downs in November. Based on his previous two victories stateside, Cape Blanco would be extremely formidable in the BC Turf.
The win completed a European sweep of Arlington's International Festival of Racing. In addition to O'Brien's two winners, French mare Stacelita captured the $750,000 Beverly D. Stakes (gr. IT) immediately before the Million.
Mission Approved set a reserved pace over the outsider Proceed Bee, Dean's Kitten, and Cape Blanco, who tracked comfortably on the outside through early fractions of :24.81, :50.26, and 1:16.04. Mission Approved continued to lead into the stretch after completing a mile in 1:41.50.
Cape Blanco launched his bid on the far turn and challenged in upper stretch to take the lead. He expanded his advantage to 2 1/2 lengths at the eighth pole, then won as much the best under some left-handed urging from Spencer.
Gio Ponti, racing at the rail for Ramon Dominguez, angled out in upper stretch for the drive and was able to overcome Dean's Kitten in the final couple of strides for second. Irish-bred Wigmore Hall, a half-length farther back under female jockey Hayley Turner, rallied on the outside to edge Rahystrada for fourth.
In addition to the Irish Derby, Cape Blanco won the prestigious Irish Champion Stakes (gr. IT) by 5 1/2 lengths last year. The Million win was the chestnut colt's eighth in 14 lifetime starts and boosted his career bankroll to $3,555,230. The victory was worth $576,000.
Jack Ronan and Des Vere Hunt Farm bred Cape Blanco, who is out of the Presidium mare Laurel Delight.
Under equal weights of 126 pounds, the 2-1 pick Cape Blanco paid $6.20, $3.80, $3.40. Second choice Gio Ponti, now winless in four starts in 2011 for trainer Christophe Clement, returned $3.40 and $2.80. The $2 exacta was worth $16.60. Dean's Kitten, off at 19-1 for trainer Michael Maker, paid $7.20 to show.
After Wigmore Hall and Rahystrada came Tajaaweed, Mission Approved, Proceed Bee, Zack Hall, and General Perfect.