In the world of horse racing it’s hard to find a better show on turf than on the weekend known as The Arlington Million. Racing since 1981, this prestigious racing card is the highlight of the summer at Arlington Park and has gained the interest of horse owners and trainers from around the world. With Breeders’ Cup prep racing in full bloom, this Mid August event has been and will continue to be a stepping stone to the BC Turf and BC Filly and Mare Turf as well. For a Million Dollar purse you can bet that top players are involved.
In the inaugural year it became an instant attraction when legendary thoroughbred champion John Henry won the Million on his way to becoming the 1981 Horse of the Year. Aboard for the ride was hall of fame jockey Bill Shoemaker. With an opening act as grand as that the years that followed were sure to include the star power that would attract horse racing fans to Illinois Thoroughbred Racing’s finest day of the year. Since then we’ve seen jockey’s Laffit Pincay, Jr, Chris McCarron, Gary Stevens, Jerry Bailey, Pat Day, and Kent Desormeaux win the Million. But no thoroughbred is worthy of winning the Million without the likes of trainers such as D. Wayne Lukas (’97), Bill Mott ‘(94), Bobby Frankel (’00 & ’02) or Charles Wittingham (’82, ’86, & ’90) to name a few.
The Arlington Million 2011 is here and the field isn’t anything shy of Grade 1 caliber. For 60% of a million dollar purse and an automatic qualification into the Breeders’ Cup Turf on the line, the stakes had better be high in Chicago and that is exactly where they’ll be on Saturday. Grabbing the early headlines it’s been all about the rematch. Coming into this race with home court advantage is 2009 winner and 2010 runner-up Gio Ponti who is looking to become only the 2nd horse to have ever won the Million twice. To follow John Henry (’81 & ’84) he’ll have to get the upper hand on a contender that got the best of him in the G1 Man O’ War at Belmont Park on 7/9 (Replay). Because of his recent triumph, Cape Blanco enters the Million as your Morning Line favorite.
Gio Ponti, 6 yr old by Tale of the Cat, bred in KY and for the turf has enjoyed a successful career thus far but has yet to reach the winners circle in three Breeders’ Cup races, finishing 2nd twice. Known to try his hand at the Synthetic surface as well, his biggest win was spoiled by the most unforgettable closer of all time, Zenyatta, in the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita. Since the 2009 season where Gio Ponti finished 6 races with 4 wins and 2 2nd place finishes he still holds form and is very capable of going on to win on Saturday and quite possibly claim his first ever Breeders’ Cup win this fall on the turf at Churchill Downs. Trained by Christophe Clement and ridden by Ramon Dominguez, Gio Ponti is equipped with the connections and the experience that is going to be needed.
Cape Blanco, 4 yr old colt bred in IRE, is looking to continue to emerge on the North American racing scene. Trained by Aidan O’Brien, the decision to move him across the pond for his 1st ever race in the United States proved to be a well calculated plan. Coming over to Belmont Park for the Man O’ War Stakes was where he made it clear what kind of potential he had. Stalking just off the lead, he made his move coming out of the final turn. The young 4 yr olds performance was impressive because when the veteran Gio Ponti came charging he still had enough in the tank to deny the bid and win. It was a great ride by Jamie Spencer so he will return in the race for a Million. A win on Saturday will once again prove his ability to win against G1 company and will ultimately lead him to the Breeders’ Cup.
The only other time these two have met was at the Dubai World Cup in March of this year. Neither was a factor in a race that was dominated by European specialists. However, they raced close and finished in consecutive order 4th and 5th with Cape Blanco getting the edge that time as well. Everyone knows that these two trainers eat, sleep and breathe turf course thoroughbred racing. They’ve each one the Million before – Clement with Gio Ponti in ’09 and O’Brien with Powerscourt in ’05 – but we’ll have to wait until Saturday to see if either of them will come away as a two time winner. If so, the Million Dollar Champ will be the leading contender for horses that have raced on American soil this year in the upcoming Breeders’ Cup Turf.
Will you take the veteran that has done it before at Arlington, or opt for the young gun that has had the veteran’s number thus far? As we get closer to Saturday however we won’t discount the field that includes Mission Approved. My picks to follow later this week but for now here is your field for Saturday’s Arlington Million.
- Rahystrada S. Russell 12-1
- Tajaaweed J. Graham 12-1
- Dean’s Kitten J. Leparoux 30-1
- Zack Hall C. Soumillon 10-1
- Gio Ponti R. Dominguez 2-1
- Proceed Bee C. Emigh 50-1
- Cape Blanco J. Spencer 9-5
- Mission Approved J. Espinoza 6-1
- Wigmore Hall H. Turner 8-1
- General Perfect G. Gomez 50-1
Written by: Little Brink