English-based shipper Debussy, sent off at 11-1 in his United States debut, made a dynamic late burst along the inside to upset champion Gio Ponti in the Arlington Million (gr. IT) (VIDEO) Aug. 21.
It was another hard-luck defeat for Castleton Lyons’ Gio Ponti, who finished runner-up for the fifth time since October and just shy of becoming the first back-to-back winner in Million history.
The 4-year-old Tale of the Cat colt looked to be the winner in deep stretch after rallying from last and making a wide move into the lane under Ramon Dominguez. But Debussy, one of two Million starters saddled by standout trainer John Gosden, showed a tremendous turn of foot in the final yards to get up by a half-length with William Buick aboard.
Debussy, a 4-year-old Diesis colt owned by Princess Haya of Jordan, covered the 10 furlongs on Arlington’s good turf course in 2:03.01. It was the biggest career victory for Debussy, who is a two-time group winner in Europe. He entered the race off a fourth-place effort in the July 24 Sky Bet York Stakes (Eng-II) at York.
Racing on bleeder medication for the first time, Debussy was fourth for much of the way while his stablemate Tazeez took a commanding lead. Tazeez, three times group stakes-placed in Europe this season, had no trouble outrunning the field of nine under Richard Hills after passing initial pacesetter Quite a Handful, loping along through fractions of :50.04, :1:13.69, and :1:37.85. He took a 2 1/2-length advantage into the stretch before beginning to show signs of tiring.
Meanwhile, Gio Ponti trailed the field for six furlongs, and it wasn’t until the final turn that last year’s champion older horse and champion grass horse began to circle his rivals. He had to go six-wide into the lane, but was full of run while passing Tazeez in upper stretch.
There seemed little doubt Gio Ponti would go on to win his second Million approaching the sixteenth-pole, but Debussy, who only had one horse beat at the top of the lane before finding room along the hedge under Buick, moved like a locomotive while passing horses in deep stretch and reeled in the 9-10 favorite just before the wire.
Gio Ponti outfinished third-place Tazeez by two lengths. Rahystrada was fourth.
"I thought, 'Oh, no, I have so much horse, but I'm not going to have enough room,' " Buick said. "But then the hole opened and we got it."
Dominguez thought he was home free in deep stretch.
"I thought I had enough to hang on," he said. "Once I got clear, the horse was idling a little bit; maybe looking at the stands or something."
Debussy, whose last win came in the Betfair Huxley Stakes (Eng-III) in May, became a millionaire with his upset win while improving to 5-0-1 from 14 starts. He was bred in Ireland by Darley and is out of the Singspiel mare Opera.
It was an unexpected and milestone win for Gosden. "He had nowhere to go," the trainer said. "I think they just tired the last part and he dashed up the rail and done it really well. I've been trying to win this race for 28 years."
The winner paid $24, $8.20, and $5.60. The exacta (2-6) returned $77.20 and the trifecta (2-6-9) paid $171.30 for $1.