This Week’s Featured Race Preview Analysis
Gio Ponti Attempts Repeat Win in Arlington Million
By Ellis Starr - National Racing Analyst for Equibase
The 28th running of the Grade 1, $1 million Arlington Million brings together nine top quality turf runners not only attempting to win the $600,000 winner’s share of the purse but also to earn an automatic spot in the Grade 1, $3 million Breeders’ Cup Turf to be run the first weekend in November. 2009 Million winner Gio Ponti appears very capable of repeating as he enters this year’s race in the same way he did last year, having been victorious in the Grade 1 Man o’ War Stakes in his most recent race. Rahystrada enters the Million off a strong victory in the Grade 3 Arlington Handicap last month. Just as Well finished second to Rahystrada in the Arlington Handicap, a race he won last year before a runner-up effort behind Gio Ponti in the Million. Arlington Handicap third, fourth and sixth-place finishers – Tajaaweed, Marsh Side and General Quarters, respectively - all hope to improve off their recent efforts to be more competitive in the Million, with General Quarters sporting the best recent credentials to do just that as he won the Grade 1 Turf Classic Stakes in May. Three imports from Europe will make their North American debuts, with Summit Surge having run the best of the trio in top company as he won the Group 2 York Stakes late last month. Debussy was favored in the Sky Bet but only managed a fourth place finish. However, two races prior to that he won Group 3 Huxley Stakes so he could rebound to better form. Tazeez rounds out the trio of Europeans, cutting back to the distance of a fine third place finish in the Group 1 Prince of Wales Stakes, won by Byword, who came back to finish third last weekend in the Group 1 Juddmonte International Stakes, so he too appears to fit with these top turf runners. Quite a Handful rounds out the field and appears overmatched as he looks for his first graded stakes victory.
Summit Surge, with a win on Saturday, would join Silvano, Sulamani, and Spirit One as other Million winners in the last 10 years who won while making their first start in the United States. (Powerscourt also finished first in the Million in his U.S. debut but was disqualified to fourth.) Summit Surge possesses the same top credentials as the other four, coming into the Million off a Group 2 Stakes win in Great Britain. Winning the York Stakes last month at the distance of one mile and five-sixteenths, Summit Surge should have no issues with the one and one-quarter mile distance of the Million. With his regular rider Kieran Fallon coming from Europe to ride him in the Million it is well within the realm of possibility that Summit Surge could post the upset and win his second graded stakes race in a row.
Gio Ponti entered last year’s Million off a sharp win in the Man o’War Stakes, earning a 120 Equibase® Speed Figure that he duplicated in winning the Million. This year, Gio Ponti enters the Million off victory in the Man o’War with an even better 123 figure effort and as such deserves the public favoritism likely to be bestowed on him in his quest for his 11th career win. Jockey Ramon Dominguez has been in the saddle for Gio Ponti’s last three wins, including the 2009 Million, and knows exactly what to do in order to get Gio Ponti to the wire on top for the second year in a row.
Tazeez is another top quality European runner making his U.S. debut today, cutting back from the marathon distance of one and one-half miles to one mile and one-quarter, a distance at which he nearly won the Group 3 Brigadier Gerard Stakes in May when missing by a neck to Stotsfold, who finished just a head from the runner-up spot behind Just as Well in the 2009 Million. Following that effort, Tazeez wasn’t disgraced one bit when third in the Group 1 Prince of Wales Stakes, with winner Byword and runner-up Twice Over coming back to run very well last weekend when third and second, respectively, in the Group 1 Juddmonte International Stakes in England. Considering how competitively he has performed in top company this year, Tazeez must be respected as a contender in the Million.
Rahystrada and Just as Well enter the Million off big efforts in the Arlington Handicap last month, run at the mile and one-quarter distance of the Million. Rahystrada earned a career best 112 figure when winning by a half length over Just as Well, who in the 2009 running of the Million finished second to Gio Ponti following victory in the Arlington Handicap. Previous to the Arlington Handicap, Just as Well finished second, one-half length in front of Rahystrada in the Dixie Stakes. Although their best races appear to be a cut below the best that Gio Ponti, Summit Surge and Tazeez are capable of, with both horses having shown ability in top company they must be given consideration for a share of the purse at the least in Arlington Million XXIII.
The rest of the Million field, with their best representative Equibase® Speed Figures, is General Quarters (103), Marsh Side (110), Quite a Handful (102) and Tajaaweed (111). Debussy has not run in North American and therefore has no figure.