Often times, European horses are the focus of attention in the internationally prestigious Arlington Million (gr. IT). And while the 2009 edition of the race does include three capable foreigners, it is a trio of terrific American horses that are the ones to beat this time around.
Gio Ponti, Einstein and Presious Passion, with six grade I wins between them this season, lead a contentious field of nine in the Aug. 8 Arlington Million at Arlington Park. The 1 1/4-mile turf race is the centerpiece of the Chicago-area racetrack’s Million Day card that also includes the $750,000 Beverly D. and Secretariat stakes, also both grade I turf events.
This winner of this year’s Arlington Million will receive an automatic invitation to the group I Japan Cup at Tokyo later in the year, as well as a starting position in the Nov. 7 Breeders’ Cup Turf (gr. IT) at Santa Anita Park. Both the Beverly D. and the Million will be shown live on ESPN. Post time for the Million is at 4:42 p.m. CDT.
Castleton Lyons’ Gio Ponti was installed as the 5-2 morning-line favorite—and rightfully so. The 4-year-old son of Tale of the Cat---Chipeta Springs, by Alydar, has racked up three consecutive grade I scores on grass and vaulted himself to the top of the national turf ranks. The Christophe Clemente trainee’s wins have included the Frank Kilroe Mile Handicap at Santa Anita, and the Woodford Reserve Manhattan Handicap and Man o’ War Stakes at Belmont Park, the latter coming in his most recent start July 11.
Overall, Gio Ponti has tallied eight wins from 13 career starts with earnings of more than $1.5 million. The bay colt will have Ramon Dominguez in the irons as he makes his Arlington debut. They will break from post 6.
The French-born Clement, who has 135 graded stakes wins on the grass and is recognized internationally as one of the world’s top turf horse trainers, has never won an Arlington Million, but has saddled the last two winners of Arlington's Beverly D.
“The horse worked very well and everything is on schedule,” Clement said of Gio Ponti earlier in the week.
While it is clear that Gio Ponti’s best surface is turf, Midnight Cry Stable’s Einstein has proven equally formidable on any surface. The 7-year-old Brazilian-bred son of Spend a Buck has notched graded stakes victories on turf, dirt, and synthetic surfaces during is sensational career in which he has earned more than $2.67 million. Trained by Helen Pitts-Blasi, Einstein has recorded seven of his 11 lifetime wins on turf, including consecutive scores in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (gr. IT) at Churchill Downs.
Prior to this year’s Turf Classic, Einstein won the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I) on the Pro-Ride surface. Most recently, he had a tough trip while finishing third in the Stephen Foster Handicap (gr. I) on the Churchill dirt under regular rider Julien Leparoux.
Einstein was fifth in last year’s Arlington Million after stumbling at the break and having to overcome a wide trip. The 4-1 second choice drew the rail this time and Leparoux will keep the mount.
"It's going to be very tough," said Pitts-Blasi, who breezed Einstein five furlongs at Churchill on Aug. 1. “There are a lot of nice horses in there, and it's probably a lot tougher than it was last year, I think. It would mean a lot to win the Million. There's a lot of prestige to the Arlington Million. With what happened last year and as hard as he tries, you always want the best for him.”
As good as Gio Ponti and Einstein have been this year, Patricia Generazio’s Presious Passion also has established himself as one of top turf routers in the game. The 6-year-old Royal Anthem gelding has won three of five stakes this season, including a wire-to-wire triumph in the July 4 United Nations Stakes (gr. IT) at Monmouth Park in which he broke the 1 3/8-mile course record while repeating in the event. It was the seventh graded stakes score for the Florida-bred, who has earned more than $1.8 million.
This will be Presious Passion’s first try in 40 career starts at Arlington. It is no secret that jockey Elvis Trujillo will try to send him right to the front. The chestnut will also hope for a firm turf course.
“I'll be watching (the weather) pretty closely,” trainer Mary Hartmann said. “I have already checked out the weather. They just have a 20-30% chance of isolated thundershowers.So I think we're going to go.
“He seems to relax when he gets on an easy lead. And since he has gotten older he's shown he's got enough stamina to finish the race and be successful. So now we just let him do it.”
The other three American-bred contenders are Mr. Sidney, winner of the one-mile Firecracker Handicap (gr. IIT) at Churchill July 4, Recapturetheglory, who comes off an allowance win on Arlington’s turf and is best known for winning the Illinois Derby (gr. II) in 2008, and Just as Well, a 6-year-old A.P. Indy horse owned and trained by Hall of Famer Jonathan Sheppard. Just as Well enters off a one-length victory in the July 11 Arlington Handicap (gr. IIIT) for his first graded stakes win.
Of the three European-based invaders, perhaps Teruya Yoshida’s Cima de Triomphe has the best chance. The 4-year-old son of Galileo won England’s group III Blue Square Brigadier Gerard Stakes at Sandown May 28 and was fourth to one of the world’s top horses—Sea the Stars—last out in the July 4 Coral-Eclipse (Eng-I). The Irish-bred colt arrived in Chicago last week.
"He’s a happy camper,” said assistant trainer Charlie Henson. "We’re very pleased with him and how he’s doing. He traveled well and he’s had no problems since we got here."
Completing the field are British-bred Stotsfold, winner of the group III La Coupe in France June 18, and Brazilian-bred Gloria de Campeao, who finished a distant runner-up to Well Armed in the March 28 Dubai World Cup (UAE-I) before taking a stakes race in Singapore in May.
Europeans finished first, second, and third in the 2008 Arlington Million, which was won by Spirit One.