Saturday, Aug. 8, Arlington Park
The Low-Down: A lucrative novelty when it was introduced as the first million-dollar Thoroughbred race in 1981, the Arlington Million has a storied history that includes victories by some of the top turf horses in the game. Unlike most U.S. grass races, it often lures some quality lawnmowers from overseas. Puddle jumpers have won four Millions this decade: Spirit One in '08, Powerscourt in '05, Sulamani in '03 and Silvano in '01.
GIO PONTI, EINSTEIN and PRESIOUS PASSION are three of the best turf horses North America has to offer. STOTSFOLD, CIMA DE TRIOMPHE and GLORIA DE CAMPAEO would be considered B-level grass horses in Europe. The turf racing overseas is much stronger than it is in the U. S., and if horses like Sea the Stars, Rip Van Winkle or '08 Breeders' Cup Turf champ Conduit were entered in the Million, they would most certainly be favored. Instead that roll falls to GIO PONTI, who won the Grade 1 Man 'O War last out as impressively as he could.
EINSTEIN may have won last year's Million if not for a compromised start, and the pacesetter PRESIOUS PASSION usually forgets to stop. GLORIA DE CAMPAEO won the Group 1 Singapore Airlines International Cup last out, defeating Persvis, one of the top turf horses on the globe, in the process. Speaking of top turf horses, CIMA DE TRIOMPHE ran down the aforementioned Conduit two back, and he finished a respectable fourth in the Group 1 Coral Eclipse Stakes in England last out, and that may be the strongest grass event run anywhere this year.
Our Eyes: Almost certainly the pacesetter for Million 27, PRESIOUS PASSION swings back off a repeat score in the Grade 1 United Nations a Monmouth. It was a race you have to see to believe. He built a 20-length advantage early on, and simply ran a quality field off their feet, setting a stakes record in the process. If the early fractions aren't overly taxing, he could play a winning game of "catch me if you can," but he'll have some serious lawnmowers running at him late.
GIO PONTI has always been good, but he's never been better than he is now. Wide every step in the Man o' War, he still won going away and with plenty left in the tank. Following his unlucky fourth-place run in last year's Million, the connections of EINSTEIN immediately circled August 8, 2009 on their calendar. With a fair start, this 7-year-old warrior could be in line for a sweet trip today.
A distant second behind Well Armed in the Dubai World Cup, GLORIA DE CAMPAEO was dismissed at odds of 24-1 in the Singapore Airlines International Cup, but he ran a monster race that cannot be ignored. With a better trip, Persvis probably would have won, but there certainly would have been no disgrace in losing to that turf superhero. CIMA DE TRIOMPHE nailed Conduit in the final jump in his Group 3 score two races back, a race in which STOTSFOLD was a close-up third. He took advantage of a potentially short superstar who wasn't competing over his favorite distance. It was a huge performance nonetheless, and he was fourth-best in the Coral, a race in which he didn't have the greatest of trips.
A miler by trade, MR. SIDNEY stretches out his talent in Arlington Million 27. The winner of the Maker's Mark mile earlier this season at Keeneland, he was most recently seen taking down the Firecracker over the Churchill green. By stamina sire A. P. Indy, the pedigree suggests that 10 furlongs should be within his scope, and trainer Bill Mott certainly knows a good turf horse when he sees one. JUST AS WELL swings back off the first graded stakes victory of his career in the Grade 3 Arlington Handicap, a race in which he circled the field after chilling at the back of a field of 12 early on. As good as he's ever been right now, but he'll need to run his second consecutive career topper in order to make a serious impact against this super-classy field.
The Bottom Line: GIO PONTI is really good, and he keeps getting better. I really think he has the chance to be one of the top North American turf horses of all-time before all is said and done. Of the Europeans, I fancy CIMA DE TRIOMPHE best, and it's tough to toss the super-consistent EINSTEIN and the game speedster PRESIOUS PASSION. Let's key GIO POINTI in exactas, top and bottom, with that trio.
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